Buck Hill Loop

I’ve taken groups of beginners on a “My First Hike” loop at the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, MA. It’s great for first-timers or not-in-a-long-timers. But now I need a next hike for those folks who’ve done the first hike.

Maybe a loop over to Buck Hill and back to Houghton’s Pond will be just what’s needed.

My faithful hiking companion and grand-dog, Juniper the Bichon Frisee, and I start out on a perfect “Colorado” day—hot sun, clean, dry air and temperature in the low 60s. We don’t get many of these in New England, so one snatches them up like the gifts they are.

We begin the same way as the first hike. I figure the gentle warm-up around Houghton’s Pond and a touch of climbing up to the top of Tucker Hill is good for the beginner body, and the familiarity for those who’ve done it before will be good for the confidence level. And who can argue with another view of Great Blue Hill from the top of Tucker?

Check out the morning section of My First AMC Hike several posts back for pictures and description.

Skyline Trail from view of Great Blue Hill at Tucker Hill summit June 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastward and Downward

From the top of Tucker Hill, we follow the blue blazes of the Skyline Trail east. The sun warms our faces and brings out little plant companions like this little yellow flower that I couldn’t identify. Does anyone out there know it?

And here’s one of my favorites, Toad Flax. I love the crazy name and their spindly look with the odd bluish purple flower. They’re ugly and delicate at once. Here they are set off by the map lichen behind them on the rock.

Not to be outdone by the plant world, birds caw and sing, and this handsome butterfly stops by for a visit. Anybody know what kind of butterfly s/he is?

Black and blue butterfly on Skyline Trail east of Tucker Hill June 2011Little yellow flowers on Skyline Trail east of Tucker Hill June 2011

 

Toad Flax on Skyline Trail east of Tucker Hill June 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From here the trail starts to look like we’re in New Hampshire. We stare down from the top of rock piles that, in fact, are the trail that takes us down the side of Tucker. Little Tucker Hill, which seemed so friendly with its bit of rocky ascent on the western side, gets crankier and more demanding on its eastern slope, as if to say, Hey, I’m no pushover!

Think boulders, smaller rocks and dusty loose pebbles, or scree. It’s just like the White Mountains, except it only lasts for a few minutes rather than several hours. Or days.

From Skyline Trail east of Tucker Hill to red dot trail Blue Hills June 2011From Skyline Trail east of Tucker Hill to Buck Hills June 2011

Soon the trail gentles, and greens considerably. We stroll through the forest, then up a gradual embankment that turns out to be the side of North Boyce Hill. The top of this small hill is like an underwater sea of greenery with trunks of giant kelp floating upward.

Glade atop N. Boyce Hill From Skyline Trail east of Tucker Hill to Buck Hill in Blue Hills June 2011

We decide this is a beautiful spot for a snack, and a bowlful of water for the pooch.

Our trail leaves N. Boyce gradually and climbs to the vast open meadow of Buck Hill’s shoulders and summit, great grazing for a pair of hawks circling by close enough to make me keep a sharp eye on my not-quite-13-pound hiking companion. Her Bichon Frisee friend, Sadie, was swooped by a red-tail at no less a civilized place than Fresh Pond in Cambridge!

With no hawk mishap, we arrive shortly at a view of Boston, roughly five miles distant, from atop Buck’s. The city skyline is so clear it looks like a cardboard cutout that I could fold up and stick in my backpack. Now I understand the naming of the trail. I’m impressed, both with my city and with the wisdom of those who, in 1893, preserved the accessible and varied Blue Hills for we city-dwellers.

Boston view from Skyline Trail east of Tucker Hill to Buck Hill in Blue Hills June 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Dot Return

After admiring the view long enough to develop a sweat from the bright sun, we clamber down from Buck’s. Again, the trails are rocky and somewhat rough, but not for long. We get just enough of a work out for the knees and hamstrings to feel like we’ve earned the pleasant shady green stretches in between the harder bits.

Blue Hills June 2011 scouting for second hike for beginners

Meandering back through the forest to Houghton’s Pond, Juniper goes for a dip to cool off before we head for home, refreshed by the morning’s ramble. It’s a good hike, but a little more than I wanted for Hike Number Two for beginner groups. Oh well. This just means another scouting expedition for Junie and Grandma in the Blue Hills!

 

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North Pack Monadnock in Spring

North Pack Monadnock lies in southeastern New Hampshire, 12 miles away from its brawny, more famous and far more popular cousin, Mt. Monadnock. Hiking Mt. Monadnock is a gorgeous, hamstring-pulling adventure filled with people young and not-so-young. But if you’re looking for a pleasant time in nature, alone or nearly so, I recommend nearby North Pack.

 

It’s a lovely hike for people and dogs, gentle but steady uphill and downhill, only one somewhat steep bit, and 6.2 miles roundtrip. The elevation gain varies according to what source you read, but appears to be between 1300 and 1400 feet, a great warm-up to start the hiking season!

Kim with boulders and dogs North Pack Monadnock

We took Ted’s Trail up (to the intersection with Cliff Trail) and were accompanied much of the way by a charming stream that made for picturesque moments and handy drinking spots for the canine contingent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny droplet streams of water splitting going down rocks and wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stream also wandered in and among clumps of boulders, offering various small waterfalls and pools.

great shot of two dark boulders atop long high textured grey ones north pack monadnock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juniper and Cindy at base of rocks with water and brown leaves North Pack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had nearly perfect weather and conditions. The trail was dry underfoot. On April 22, after the snowy winter of 2011, only the tiniest few patches of the white stuff remained. The temperature was 50°- 55°; and the sun shone. There was a bit of haze, which we never noticed until we had a long view, as we did from the south ledges where we stopped for lunch.

Kim with Juniper, Cindy and Pixie on south ledges North Pack Monadnock April 22, 2011

The only thing that irritated me about this trail was the number of false summits. I swear I said, “Here we are, this must be the top” about seven times. Because the websites we read about the summit claimed it had limited views, we were surprised to find quite an expansive summit awaiting us, with a really humongous cairn and plenty of room to roam around and explore. The views were pretty, too. Just keep following those blue blazes!

 

Yes, we did see Mt. Monadnock, recognizable by its rocky top and for standing by itself. I’ve included a photo of it here. The haze made it hard to discern its solid rock cone, but I can’t complain about such a wonderful day.

Mt Monadnock as seen from North Pack Monadnock April 22, 2011

Coming down we switched to Carolyn’s trail to enjoy the loop experience for different views and sights. The first quarter of the return trip meandered down slabs, not at all like Ted’s trail. That Carolyn sure likes her ledges!

 

Once past the ledges, the trail was a sweet, easy ramble that eventually joined up again with Ted’s and led us back to the trailhead.

cindy and juniper in dry leaves by a tree with bole and my fanny pack behind them North Pack Monadnock

The dogs slept like rocks all the way home.

 

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Train for Spring Hiking

It’s not too early to begin getting your body ready for a hike in May. Generally, three months are required to build up to an “event,” like a big hike or race or match, but more time means you can spread out and slow down the training—a good thing, especially for beginners.

So make a plan for yourself. Start now. Whatever kind of training you decide to do, block out time for it on your calendar, like an appointment. Putting something on the calendar and saving the time for it is the surest way to make it happen.

For hiking, you need strength—particularly in your legs—and breath. Going up the mountain will work your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs); coming down will test your quadriceps muscles, Picture grey and orange of muscles of quads in bodythe four sets of long muscles in your thighs, and your knees. Having a strong core, i.e., muscles in your abdomen and back, helps you carry the weight of your pack.

Cardio Training

There are lots of ways to build up your ability to breathe when being active. You can bicycle, run, walk fast, climb stairs, use a Nordic Track machine, walk on a treadmill with a steep incline, or wor

k out on the elliptical machine. What works best for me has been going up and down long sets of actual stairs, like in the subway or in a stadium. Overall, I’d say that’s the best training for a hike I’ve found.

In the last few years, however, due to knee injuries and my knee caps wearing down, I’ve decided to save that kind of wear-and-tear for actual hikes. To go easier on my knees in training, I’ve turned to the elliptical machine.

Start Easy and Build Up

When I started using the Nordic Track years ago for my cardio workout, I stayed on it for three minutes only at first, got off and stretched for 30 seconds, got back on for 3 minutes, stretched for 30 seconds and was done. I built up by adding several minutes each week, still chunking the workout into time on the machine and time off for stretching. I built up to a good workout of 30-45 minutes with no breaks, three times a week. Ideally, you want to do a cardio activity for 30-60 minutes three times a week, thought it may take you quite a while to get there. Another reason to start now for that spring hike!

Overdoing the length or difficulty or a

workout can lead to injuries or so much discomfort with sore muscles that you get discouraged and quit. So don’t be impatient. Many small steps will still get you to your goal, with a lot less risk and pain. Be gentle with yourself and, most important of all, listen to what your body is telling you even if the person next to you in the gym is going twice as fast or as long as you are. Forget them! If you start to feel pain anywhere, slow down, ease up. If the pain doesn’t go away, stop and stretch. Take a five-minute break; walk around. Try again, slowly, but if the pain is still there, quit the workout altogether. Go home and ice the area and rest.

Go Backwards

Whatever you do for cardio exercise, spend some of the time doing it backward. Be safe, of course. Make sure there are no obstacles in your path and go slowly if you’re not on a machine. But be sure to do as much as you can backwards. This builds up your hamstrings, a group of three long muscles in the backs of your legs, those tight long critters that burn from the back of your ankle up to your butt when they’re not stretched out. Gluts and hamstrings orange, butt shows a lotThey help bend your knee and move your thighs, crucial actions in hiking, so you need to balance your strength building both front and back.

On the elliptical, for example, I break up my workout into chunks of time, one chunk forward, one chunk backward, another forward, another backward and so on so that by the end I’ve spent an equal amount of time going forward and backwards.

Going backwards has an added benefit: it works your proprioceptive system. Basically, this system helps us sense things inside our bodies and, for example, where our bodies are in the space around us.

Walking backwards, I find, helps me gain a better sense of when I’m about to run into something. It also has improved my balance quite a bit. Even better, if one of my knees or hips feels tight or a bit sore, walking backwards “resets” my muscles in such a way that when I turn around and walk forward again, any pain or tightness has eased.

Try it!

Strength Training

All of the things I’ve mentioned above for cardio workouts also build up your quadriceps and hamstrings. There are specific weight machines or hand weights you can use to build strength, too. If you have limited time to work on strength training, focus on your legs.

Naturally, it’s great to also build your core, or torso, strength. One way to do this is by wearing a backpack filled with water bottles or cans of food as you do your cardio training, thereby getting a two-for-one workout. The same principles I mentioned earlier apply. Start slowly! Add weight to the backpack gradually as you become comfortable and build up to what your filled backpack will weigh on the hike, a weight you determine by loading the pack up with everythi

ng you plan to take and setting it on a scale.

woman doing pilates hundred outsideIf you can, take a Pilates class. It’s the best thing I’ve found for building not only abdominal strength but back strength. I’ve got scoliosis (a curved spine) so I have to be extra-protective of my back. Nothing takes care of the back better than strong abs and a slow, gradual building of back strength. Again, don’t overdo. Take your time. Hiking is an endurance sport; you don’t need to rush through the hike, nor the training for it.

It’s the Vision Thing

If working out is not your favorite pastime, remind yourself you’re doing this so you can enjoy that first beautiful spring hike out in the woods or mountains, breathing crystalline air and surrounded by beauty. It helps to focus on the goal when you’re tired and would prefer to collapse in front of the television or sit down with a book instead of do your work out.African Am woman with silver weights

Take pride in the progress you make. Give yourself small rewards at the end of each workout, or the end of the week if you’ve done everything you planned to do. Some people set aside a dollar for every work out, building up to a massage. Others eat a piece of chocolate when they’re done or take along bath with candles. Whatever turns you on, reward yourself with it for your hard work. (Rewards also train the unconscious to expect something pleasant, so eventually going to work out becomes easier.)

In the months between now and May, you’ll become more fit in the service of getting ready to do something you’ll really enjoy. Look forward. Anticipation is half the fun. Picture yourself there on that first hike feeling strong and comfortable in the body you’ve thoughtfully prepared to have a great time.

Nancy atop mountain raising fists in air

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Get Ready for Spring Hiking

Come hike with me in the spring!

I’ll be leading a hike for beginners. Which means it’s time to think about training, since it’s never too soon to start training and making sure your gear is in good shape. So here are suggestions for any beginners—or folks who are returning to hiking after a sojourn in the office, on the couch, or doing another sport.

Boot Up

Hiking doesn’t have to be hugely expensive, but it does require some paraphernalia. Check out the Appalachian Mountain Club’s suggested list of stuff to bring on a day hike, or email me for my personal list. You can then apportion any needed purchases over the next several months.

Be on the watch for sales after Christmas and New Year’s!

What to buy first? Boots. They are the single most important piece of equipment for three- season hiking. (Winter hiking requires another whole set of purchases and of skills, so I’ll focus on hiking during the rest of the seasons.)

Yes, boots can be expensive. The key thing is to find ones that fit both your feet and the kind of hiking you’re likely to do. If you intend to backpack, you need taller, sturdier boots to help support the extra weight and distance. Some folks prefer leather boots, which last a long time but are heavier and hotter on the foot. Others like ones that are partly netted, providing more air to the foot and lighter to pick up and put down on all those steps one takes on a hike. If you’ll mostly day hike, you can do with lighter boots.

Two pairs high hiking boots

I have both kinds, as shown in the picture, but mostly wear the lighter ones.

Some people, even for day hiking, don’t like boots that come higher than the ankle. Me, I’m prejudiced in favor of taller boots. I think the support they give to the ankle is worth the extra weight. But if you try on lots of pairs of boots and the ones that feel the best are lower, go with them. The key is to be as comfortable as possible.

one pair low cut hiking boots

Shop in places with knowledgeable salespeople and where you can take your time. Try on a zillion pairs of boots in different sizes, shapes and materials. Definitely walk up and down the ramp, if the store provides one, so you can see if your toes get squished on the way downhill. Squished toes are bad juju. Find another boot.

Boots should offer room for your foot to swell as you hike, because it will most of the time, but not so much room that your heels rub up and down; heel rubbing is also bad juju.

Wear Boots Now

Start wearing your boots now, around your apartment, to the grocery store, on the subway. Wear them for half an hour only at first. Then gradually increase the amount of time they’re on your feet.  Here’s the first rule of enjoyable hiking: never, ever wear new, unbroken-in boots on a hike. They will hurt your feet! Enjoyable hiking is all about keeping your feet happy.

“Happy feet” means un-blistered feet. The best start to blister prevention is good socks, so make them purchase number two if you don’t already have socks made for hiking. Hiking socks provide a little cushion to weary soles, but most importantly, they wick away sweat. Sweat can cause blisters.

Three pair hiking socks

Lots of folks, including me, wear two sets of socks so that the inner sock, not your skin, rubs against the outer sock. These inner socks are called liners and are made of very thin wicking material.Two pair liner socks for hiking

For Tenderfoots

When I was in my 20s searching for heels in a shoe store once, the sales guy looked at my small, skinny feet with even narrower heels and said, “Lady, you’ve got aristocratic feet.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It means you have to spend a lot more money on shoes.”

Sadly, he was right. And since my skin is tender, I have to be pro-active to prevent blisters. For most folks, you can do the double-sock thing, go hiking and all you need to do is be aware when any place on your feet or ankles feels warm, hot or rubbed. Stop. Stick a Band-Aid or piece of moleskin on that spot immediately (no moleskin if you’ve already formed a blister), and you’ll be fine.

Not me or hikers like me. I moleskin-up beforehand because I know I’ll get blisters if I don’t. I also use the rubbery kind of blister-aid things, which stick well until your feet get too damp, but come in great shapes for toes and heels, for example.

I also use anti-blister powder, which I shake into my liner socks to help prevent blistering in places I haven’t bandaged. Other times, I rub Vaseline petroleum jelly all over my feet before sticking them in the liner sock. This feels a little nasty at first, but works and is cheaper. If your feet don’t blister when you buy a new pair of shoes, you probably don’t suffer from aristocratic feet, so you may never have to go this extra step.

Mo’ Later

This post could go on forever, so I’ll be doing it in installments. Check back each week for a new topic in getting ready for the spring hiking season. Remember to contact me if you want my personal gear list, tested over ten years and 80 or so mountains.

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Marching Up Moosilauke

We were blessed with Goldilocks weather: not too hot, not too cold; not too sunny, not too cloudy. I was supremely grateful. The last three hikes I’ve co-led were like climbing through hot soup.  My clothes were soaked within the first half hour.

Not only the weather made the day special. My friend Nancy flew in from CA to join me. Moosilauke was the first hike we ever did together, back in 2002. Unfortunately, she got bumped from her original flight and neither of us slept the night before the hike until she walked through my door at 2:00 a.m. But who needs sleep when you’ve got good company?

Which we had in spades. We had a group of 13 fine souls signed up. But when it came time to head out, we were missing Randy. I was surprised because Randy had hikedwith me the weekend before and I knew he was excited to do his first 4000 Footer. We waited a while, but then had to press on.

Mt Moosilauke AMc July 31, 2010 co-lead w/ Leslie Greer, Nancy Holland came too

Gorge Brook Trail Up

Very soon we crossed a bridge.

The trail had delightful footing, lots of pine needles, much like trails in the west. The brook gurgled chattily by our side, Gorge Brook, of course, the namesake for our eponymous trail, and we enjoyed sweet glimpses of coursing water and rock through the trees.

Mt Moosilauke AMC July 31, 2010 co-lead w/ Leslie Greer and Nancy Holland came too

Mt Moosilauke AMC July 31, 2010 co-lead w/ Leslie Greer and Nancy Holland came too

Leslie, our fearless leader, had us hike for half an hour, then take a five-minute break for water, snack or other necessities, a schedule calculated to give us a generous 45 minutes or so for lunch and exploring at the top and still keep us to book time overall.

We marched on as the trail steepened, getting to know one another.

Mt Moosilauke AMC July 31, 2010 co-lead w/ Leslie Greer and Nancy Holland came too

You could say that Moosilauke is a hike connected by lodges. At the base of many of the trails stands Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, a wooden ski lodge constructed in the 1930s from nearby spruce, full of character, now owned by Dartmouth College. Ravine Lodge serves breakfast and dinners to guests, much like the AMC huts in the Whites, staffed, in this case by Dartmouth students and alums. Overnight rates are unbelievably reasonable and the lodge is open to the public.

Best of all, you can start and end the hike using indoor plumbing!

Moosilauke Ravine Lodge AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010

Lucky Thirteen

We continued on through the woods, with surprisingly few bugs. I switched with Leslie and took the sweep position. We kept to a moderate pace, working up a light sweat, just enough to enjoy the break when it came.

Four thousand footers tend to be all up, then all down. You spend the morning going steadily, sometimes steeply, up hill; eat lunch; then spend the afternoon coming steadily, sometimes steeply, down. Occasionally, there’s a bit of level trail, rare enough to be noticed. Speaking for myself, I rejoice to see dirt on the trail as opposed to rock and root. Dirt feels like sofa cushions for the feet.

As we finished up our second break, Leslie and I did the usual head count. “All here,” I said.

AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010 Nancy's friendAMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010 AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010 AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010

“No,” she said. “We’re supposed to be 13.” Kristen reminded her we had to leave somebody behind and we were just about to start off again, when I recognized a guy speeding up the trail towards us wearing a cowboy hat. I swear, just at the moment Leslie had counted him back into the group, a breathless, drenched Randy arrived, having caught up to us from over half an hour behind. We all applauded and gave him a few minutes before moving out.

AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010

Getting to Views

Not long afterward, as we gained more elevation to arrive at 3850 feet, we came to our first cleared outlook, in this case, to the South. From here we could see Mt. Kineo and Carr Mountain, according to The 4000-Footers of the White Mountains by Steve Smith and Mike Dickerman, inveterate hikers of the Whites. All I know is, it was one fine view and we all stood there, oohing and aahing.

AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010 View to the SouthAMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010 View to the South

From there we ascended steadily enough that conversation slowed as we needed more breath. We went back into woods for a while, passing a couple more outlooks as we hiked. Being sweep, I could cheat and stop to admire the views even though it wasn’t yet break-time.

It’s little wonder that Moosilauke is such a popular hike.

Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010

For a 4000-Footer, it’s pretty easy, not too long, and chock-full of vistas.

At last we came to the last rocky slog to the summit, which promised not only lunch, but 360° views that show huge swathes of NH, parts of Vermont, and, off to the Northeast, wave upon wave of mountains, Franconia Ridge backed by the Presidentials, among others.

Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010

By the time I arrived, the group had donned more clothing to avoid getting over-heated bodies chilled by the wind and settled down in two groups to partake of their repast. At various points, someone would wander off to all points of the compass to take in the sweeping panorama.

I had kept a wary eye on Nancy, waiting for her jet lag and lack of sleep to kick in, but she hiked with ease all the way up. In fact, everybody seemed in great shape. All enjoyed the rest, though, and the summit treats we leaders brought: chocolate covered peanuts and dark chocolate almond bark.

Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010

Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010

A Bit of History

The first trail up to the summit was cleared in 1840 and that year Mrs. Daniel Patch, again according to Smith and Dickerman, became the first woman to climb the mountain. At the top, apparently, she fixed a cup of tea! Imagine carrying a tea cup in your pack, along with tea, fire starter and a tea pot. Did she take lemon or milk, I wonder.

Back to lodges for a moment. The top of Moosilauke used to have one right on the very summit on which we sat. The first hotel, sporting six rooms, opened in 1860 and was built of stone,. They note that it was expanded several times and had several names: Prospect House, Summit House, Tip-Top House. A bridle path was built up to it, for obvious purposes, part of which was expanded into a carriage road that actually charged tolls until 1919.

I could still see the stony remains of part of a room, or foundation, of the last summit retreat. I’d have taken a picture but a group of kids was sheltered from the wind in the vee where two low walls stood and I didn’t want to bother them. You’ll just have to use your imagination to picture it.

Coming Down the Carriage Road

I was reluctant to leave, but time waits for no woman, not for Mrs. Patch and not for me. We looped onto the Carriage Road to descend, which was a lovely trail with open views and some of the best-looking cairns I’ve seen. I suppose their height (over six feet) attests to the amount of snow that falls on the summit and the popularity of Moosilauke as a winter hiking destination. Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010

Beyond the cairns, you can see the bump of South Peak, our next goal, with the trail etched into its wooded sides.

Descending strains the knees and quads already tired from the 3.7 mile climb up, which bothered a few folks, whereas ascending had strained the heart and lungs, which tended to tax other folks. Each to her or his own. I played sweep again and enjoyed some quiet moments enjoying the scenery as I waited for a couple of unscheduled “separation” (pee) breaks.

Hanging Out with Wildflowers

I enjoyed some time with wild flowers. Approaching the summit, on the grassy part called “the balcony,” I’d seen Diapensia, a hardy little white flower

diapensia mt moosilauke AMC hike co-lead w/ Leslie Greer July 31, 2010that braves the toughest alpine conditions and was still blooming on the last day of July.

There also was a nice patch of Indian Pipe on the way down, so-called, because of its obvious resemblance to the long clay pipes Native Americans used in ceremonies.

Indian pipe mt moosilauke AMC hike co-lead w/ Leslie Greer July 31, 2010

On the way up as well as on the way down, Turtleheads bloomed, a flower I loved in part because it took so long before I saw my first one. I’ve never seen a mountain strewn with so many stands of them. As we hiked down, I noticed Brenda poised over a particular Turtlehead. When I approached, she showed me the colorful beetle lurking on one of the leaves.

Turtlehead flower w/ bug or beetle Mt Moosilauke AMc hike 7-31-2010

All in all, it was a hike to make Goldilocks happy. Not too hard, not too easy. Not too high, nor too long. Not too slow, not too fast. This AMC trip to Mt. Moosilauke was most definitely Just Right.

Face made on stone Mt Moosilauke AMc hike 7-31-2010

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WWII B-18 Bomber Crash Site Hike

This was a hike with history. On January 14, 1942 at 7:40 in the cold, dark night, a US B-18 Bomber crashed into the shoulder of Mt. Waternomee in North Lincoln, NH. The shock made tableware dance and windows rattle; even in Plymouth, 22 miles away, people wondered what on earth had happened.

Only weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the citizens of North Lincoln and nearby Woodstock initially thought they were being attacked by the Japanese. The first rescue crew to reach the crash site wasn’t sure whether they were aiding enemies or allies.

I won’t give away more of the story, but I will tell you that the heroism of the soldiers who survived the crash—and astoundingly five out of seven did—and the heroism of the townsfolk who worked so hard during a bitter blizzard to keep them alive, moved me deeply.

Mt waternomee B-18 bomber crash site hike plaque in their honor

While the rest of our group settled down for lunch, I spent some time alone at the memorial site, thinking about these utterly amazing, utterly ordinary people, and lit a candle in their honor.

flag in the forest mt Waternomee B-18 bomber crash site NH

Everything I know about these people comes from a booklet written by Floyd W. Ramsey, The Night the Bomber Crashed. If you can, read it before you do the hike; it will make a difference, I assure you.

From Meadow to Woods

Despite a forecast of rain, we started off our 4.6 miles in sunshine and fine fettle, marching along an old logging road overgrown with grass and wildflowers.

Hiking in two rows B-18 Bomber Hike AMC July 24, 2010

In about half a mile, we came to a surprisingly perfect circle of meadow that signaled our turn onto the trail, and a perfect spot for a group picture. 13 hikers in big meadow circle B-18 Bomber Hike July 24, 2010The trail was marked by a tiny cairn, nearly hidden in the grass, that someone had recently built to mark the way.B-18 bomber Hike AMC July 24, 2010 cairn marking trail into woods

Entering the forest, the landscape changed dramatically. We charged along, sweating in the heat and humidity, grateful for the dense shade. Drinking, a lot of drinking, became de rigueur.

B-18 bomber Hike AMC July 24, 2010 trees growing over rock on trail into woods

The trail steepened considerably, with much of the 1350’ elevation gain coming in the last mile. Sweat soaked our clothes.

At least the footing was nice and soft, almost mushy on this un-maintained and rather unknown trail compared to the usual rocky tramp in the White Mountains. On the other hand, it was slippery. Going up wasn’t so bad, but later on, when we descended, people slipped and slid and the occasional ankle was turned, though none seriously.

The Crash Site

I was merrily chatting away to folks from the “sweep” position, when I noticed that the line of hikers ahead of me had not only stopped but dispersed. What was up? It took me a moment to realize the lump of something to my left was not another rock, but an airplane engine.

B-18 bomber Hike AMC July 24, 2010 engine in woods

The B-18 crashed high and then skidded at an angle through the trees going downhill, tearing off its wings, splitting open the fusilage, and losing its landing gear in the process. But that’s not how you come upon the wreckage. You climb up to the last bits to fall off or explode away.

First you see an engine, then other chunks and hunks or metal and gradually you piece together a doorway, a hydraulic part, and then, at the highest part of the mountain, the wings. Looking down from there you can see the line the bomber made tearing through the forest to its final rest and the explosion of the plane itself and one of the 300 pound bombs it carried.

B-18 bomber Hike AMC July 24, 2010 engine in woods closeup

The remaining bomb lay there, near the burning wreckage, the entire time of the rescue. It was eventually detonated by military personnel the next day.B-18 bomber Hike AMC July 24, 2010 wing

Some of the wreckage takes fantastical shapes. Some of it looks like litter.

Parts of the plane flew far and wide from the various blasts, so the field of discovery is broad here in little traveled Mt. Waternomee.

B-18 bomber Hike AMC July 24, 2010 airplane litter

Though the burn marks and scars on the mountainside have healed completely, it’s astonishing how fresh the metal parts still look despite the nearly seventy years the forest has had to work on them.

fantastical shapes B-18 bomber crash stie July 24, 2010

We Find the Falls

We ate lunch on the flattest spot we could find, surrounded by chunks of wreckage. It felt like sitting in some ancient ruins.

Lunch  B-18 bomber crash stie July 24, 2010

Lunch  second pic  B-18 bomber crash stie July 24, 2010

On our way down Mt. Waternomee, Robert was able to locate the falls he’d seen when he scoped out this hike a few months before. There’s no trail per se, one has to simply wait until the sound of water comes at you from both sides, the climb up the embankment on the left as you face downhill and voila! A beautiful, rugged stretch of rocks and falling water.

Some of us hiked down the steep embankment to the water’s edge while others rested on the trail above. Three adventurers, Andrew, Randy and Frank climbed up the mossy rocks to wet themselves with the cold water and enjoy the refreshing breezes. Not me. I was content to meander along the water’s edge and take pictures.

Randy at waterfalls  B-18 bomber crash stie July 24, 2010

As we came near to the end of our journey through the forest, I noticed an arrangement of Nature that looked like wooden brushstrokes representing a Japanese or Chinese character. What did it symbolize? The word “peace” came to my mind.

What does it say to you?

trees in peace symbol  B-18 bomber crash stie July 24, 2010

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Looping Mts. Welch and Dickey

Saturday I co-led my second Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hike, this time with Robin, the woman who leads hikes all over the world, the one who got me interested in leading for the AMC in the first place. We were lucky with the weather this time, in that it didn’t rain.

We’d had to cancel our first attempt at this hike back in May. The trails on these two mountains, Welch & Dickey, near Campton, NH, frequently sport slabs, long patches of bare rock. Sometimes you go across them, sometimes down and sometimes up. In any direction, you don’t want to be messing with steep bare slab when it’s rain-slippery. Not if you want to come back with all your hikers intact.

It didn’t rain but there was a lot of moisture on the hike, mostly in the form of sweat falling from my forehead. The temperature remained in the high 80s, with what felt like equally high humidity and the sun blazed onto the rock. In other words, it was hot. Every little breeze was a blessed event.

First Challenge

The first dilemma arose before we took our first step. One of the hikers locked herself out of her car, but that wasn’t all. She locked herself out because she was anxious about her wallet, which had been stolen in a rest stop on her drive up to NH. No one’s cell phone got reception in the mountains, so she had to get down from the trailhead to the road to call in her missing cards before someone had a field day with them. Since she couldn’t get into her car, someone had to drive her.

With the pressure on, Robin remained calm. We agreed that I’d drive our unfortunate comrade to find help for her bank account and also for her car, while Robin led the rest of the group up the trail to our first summit, Mt.Welch. With luck, Charlotte and I would catch up with the group at some point, but if not, I’d leave a note on Robin’s windshield telling her what our plan was.

Second Challenge

Charlotte and I successfully accomplished our missions. Now the trick was to catch up to the others when they had an hour’s lead on us. Did I mention it was hot?

Fortunately, Charlotte is a born hiker. I could hardly keep up with her. She didn’t eat or drink, hardly, she just hiked. She said it was nervous energy, but I don’t think so; she’s just strong. Here she is at the start of the hike.

charlotte at start of trail up mt. Welch

I wondered as I mopped my face how Robin and the others were faring. Meantime, Charlotte and I did a little trail repair (replacing some moss that grew like a miracle in the middle of hot baked slab that somebody had dislodged). And climbed a cool crevice.charlotte climbin up a crevice or crag on mt. Welch

We also managed to help a stranded hiker whose group had left her while she clutched in a moment of fear trying to climb up some steep slab. Charlotte took her pack and I stood next to her and together we told her where to put her feet and hands.

Once she got past that hard spot, she was fine. So fine, in fact, she and her group passed us later, thanking us again over her shoulder as she sped by. I think actually it was the other way around. It gave me an energy boost to help her out.

orange toadstool mt Welch

The Views

Along the way we saw things both small, like this vivid toadstool in the woods and large, like the slabby side of Mt. Dickey that we would later hike down, from our perspective looking like the side of a slumbering elephant.

side of Mt Dickey from welch plateau

There are several reasons to hike the Welch-Dickey loop trail. The first is the views. So is the second. The third is the sense of what a mountain is that you get from marching on its bones rather than its skin of dirt and trees.

As we neared the summit of Mt. Welch, we turned to look back at the rocky plateau from which we had seen our first 180° spread of mountains, greenery and the twin ribbons of the Mad River and Route 49 winding along beside it.

Looking down on Mt. Welch rocky slab plateau from near cone summit

After enjoying the gorgeous views east and south, we hauled ourselves up to the peak of Mt Welch. What to our wondering eyes did appear? A bunch of backpacks and gnoshing hikers, our very own group eating lunch at the summit!

Eating lunch on top of Mt. Welch

On to Mt. Dickey

Our next mountain, Mt. Dickey, is perhaps underappreciated after the wondrous slabs and views of Welch, but it has its moments. Starting out to hike the half-mile to the top of Dickey leads you to the edge of a cliff. The trail disappears and one can only presume there’s some death-defying leap to doom in store. It’s a moment that instills excitement, or horror, depending.

We all made it down alive, then up again, which is the way “ridge” trails tend to go in the Whites, and stopped for a break. It’s almost impossible to drink enough water when you’re sweating so much. To wit very few of us required, in AMC jargon, a “separation break” to relieve ourselves.

Taking a break on Mt. Dickey

The trail down from the top of Dickey is, I have to say, wonderful. There’s a fabulous view to the north and, despite some haze, you can see all the way to the Twin Mountains on the northern edge of the Presidentials, two identical little pale blue bumps against the horizon, roughly 50 miles away as the crow flies.

view of Twin Mountains north on Mt Dickey

Then there’s the fun of the trail itself. Check out these slabs!

Megan sitting on long slab trail Mt. Dickey

Robin, Dave and John on slab trail Mt. DickeyOur hike was billed as a beginner hike. Robin and I hoped that some people who were not old hands in the Whites would come try it out, and several did. They found it challenging, sometimes because it was steep, sometimes because it was scary, and sometimes because it kept going up, with much of the elevation gain coming in chunks. And, yes, it was also hot.

We got some friendly comments about how people now realized AMC stood for Appalachian Mountain Club, not Appalachian Hill Club. Or how they thought beginner hike meant easy hike. But they all stuck it out; everyone summited two not-insignificant mountains in the White Mountains, characterized by most through-hikers as the hardest mountain range of the whole 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

As we neared the trailhead parking lot, we passed the remains of an old root cellar from somebody’s home long ago, a glimpse into a different time and way of life.

It was a great group of people that banded together to succeed in hiking one of the more beautiful spots in NH. Well done, everyone.

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My First AMC Hike

My first official Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hike after being certified to co-lead was, ironically, called “My First AMC Hike.”

Bob, the experienced hike leader who had created the concept years before, agreed to resurrect it when I said it appealed to me. Designed to attract new people to hiking and to the benefits of AMC membership, “My First AMC Hike” was a two-part hike in the Blue Hills of Milton, MA.

Houghton's Pond from website

Part I was basically flat, three miles around Houghton’s Pond and a bit of incline up to Tucker Hill to catch a view. No special gear required, just decent foot wear, a rain jacket, snacks and water.

Lots of water. When I started the trail talk at 9:15am on Saturday morning, it was already 75° and humid. The sun beat down hot enough for me to remember to slather my arms and face with sunscreen.

Bob had put in the information sheet we sent out to all participants ahead of time the little-known and unlikely fact that not only copperheads but rattlesnakes inhabit the Blue Hills. I’d encountered a rattler once in my life, out hiking in Sedona, AZ, off trail in popcorn rock, exactly where a hiker should never be. I was climbing up hand-over-hand and had just pulled myself onto a nice ledge when I heard that unmistakable sound.rattlesnake image from google website

If you’ve ever wondered if you’d recognize a rattlesnake’s rattle, trust me. It’s hard wired into the human brain. The guidebook to all the critters that could kill you in Sedona, AZ was emphatic about what to do when one encountered a rattler. Freeze. Locate the snake with your eyes. Back away slowly.

I did not locate the snake with my eyes. I did not back away slowly. I leapt off that ledge faster than a jack rabbit. My husband, who was coming up the mountain behind me was startled to see me scuttling back down. “You sure it was a rattlesnake?” he asked.

I gave him a look. “If you don’t believe me, go on up and find out for yourself.” I paused. “Just remember you’re too big for me to carry, so be sure it’s the last sight you want to see.”

The Trail Talk

AMC hikes always begin with a trail talk in which one of the leaders reminds everyone of the plan for the hike and sets out a few rules, like start together, stay together, end together.

I also gave the when-you-encounter-a-snake-that-could-kill-you instructions. Copperheads, I cautioned, were more aggressive than rattlers and often took a warning swipe at people who got too close. They cut the warning so fine that sometimes they broke the skin on someone’s leg and even that could be dangerous. “Don’t go closer to a snake to get a better view,” I said. “Don’t sneak up on it to see if it’s the dangerous kind. Don’t try to snap a picture. Just back away slowly.”

Coppperhead snake image from Google website

“Bob’s been hiking in the Blue Hills for 12 years and not only hasn’t he been bitten, he hasn’t even seen one of these snakes.” I wanted to put the risk in perspective.

I thought my first trail talk went reasonably well, but what do I know? The participants were all nice polite people.

Tracking 15 People

When one of the hikers acknowledged he liked maps, I asked him to go first with a copy of the map in hand and he graciously agreed. I hiked one or two people behind him, close enough to the front so I could keep an eye on the trail as well. Bob hiked toward the back of the pack so we could cover the whole long line of folks between us, and off we went.we start off around Houghton's Pond 6/26/10

The initial footing was easy, a path wide enough for four people abreast. As we left the perimeter of the pond, the trail narrowed some and roots showed from thousands of shoes and boots hiking the soil right off of them.

I’d expected to see a lot of other folks out walking on a weekend, but we encountered few other hikers. That was a good thing, in my book. It

was hard enough to make sure all the members of our group were still together. Eighteen people had signed up for the hike and 15 of them showed up.

There’s a lot to focus on as a hike leader besides not losing anybody and staying on the right trail. Some of our participants were beginning hikers. I tried to remember to remind everyone to drink. Were any of them getting hot spots on their feet, indicative of blisters-in-the-making? Did anyone need a bio-break? How was the pace—too fast, too slow, just right?

A hike is also a social event. I wanted to get to know each of the hikers at least a little bit so they felt welcomed and freer to say their feet hurt or they needed a break, and, besides, they were interesting to talk to. Sometimes it was hard to stop conversing to count heads.

Tucker Hill

Soon we arrived at the rocky trail, about two-tenths of a mile long, up to the top of Tucker Hill. Bob gave an encouraging speech about how everyone could hike up a steep hill, it just took time. He cautioned newer hikers not to expect to go as fast for the same output of energy up a hill. I added that many smaller steps were better for the joints and less tiring than fewer large steps. Up we went. Everyone did fine.

Tucker Hill First Hill of 6-26-10 Hike in blue Hills

At the top was a lovely, if limited, view. We all admired it while we caught our breath. Bob pointed out the radio tower for Boston’s public radio station, WGBH, a mile-and-a-half west of us. One of the hikers, Steve, told us what the call letters stood for: Great Blue Hill. The tower perched atop the largest of the hills in the Reservation, Great Blue. I never knew that!

Heading Back

After Tucker Hill, the group naturally broke into two clusters, one faster and one slower, for part of the hike. Bob roamed from one to the other little group and, when he appeared, I’d head off to the other. That way we got to talk with and check on everyone.

At one point, Bob remembered that we’d forgotten to tell people to turn their cell phones off, always a good idea when you’re out enjoying nature. I had left mine on initially in case any of the participants who hadn’t shown up called me and then I’d forgotten it was on, so the reminder was a timely one.

Afternoon Hike

We returned to our starting point on Houghton Pond and hunkered down in the shady grass for lunch. Bob dumped his pack out on the lawn and explained why he carried the various things he packed.

He shared with us a cool fact he’d learned from a scientist dedicated to improving gear for soldiers: turn your hiking socks inside out, so the fluffy part faces out. As the scientist said, “Have you ever seen a sheep, or any animal, wear their fur on the inside? Much better to disperse the heat and moisture if it’s facing out.”

Cynthia put on fresh socks turned inside out and said they felt like “an oasis of pleasure” between her feet and her boots. I can’t wait to try that myself. We said goodbye to those who were leaving and got ready for Part II of the hike.

For anyone who had managed Tucker Hill well enough and wanted more, we’d spend the next few hours going up and down three or four more hills, taking in Great Blue, the biggest hill and namesake of the Reservation, covering another four miles. Four hardy souls stayed on. We crossed the road and hiked up Houghton Hill, which seemed a fitting way to begin since our morning jaunt had begun with Houghton’s Pond.

When one member’s bootlaces kept coming untied, Bob offered up another golden nugget: Cheryl’s Magic Knot. (Not me Cheryl, another Cheryl from AMC’s Southeastern Mass Chapter who’s a longtime member and hike leader.) Check it out.

It was hot, really hot. And very sunny. It was humid. Really humid. And sticky. You could hardly drink enough water to make up for all that sweated out of you. Our shirts and shorts were soaked. Salt caked on my face. Not one of our staunch little group complained.

We got on to the South Skyline Trail, tramping up and down hills, till we reached the Tower atop Great Blue, a lovely stonework formation which housed steps up to the top and windows looking out over the whole Reservation.

Far to the East lay Boston, a shadowy city in misty grey.

A cool breeze blew through the windows at the top of the tower, as refreshing to the body as the sight of distant Houghton’s Pond, our starting point, was to the eye.

After enjoying vista and breezes, we saddled up and hiked off on the North Skyline Trail. Fine views were to be had atop Wolcott Hill and some of the Hemenways before we turned back to our friend Houghton and sloped on down to the parking lot.

A young mother with a friendly girl agreed to take our picture, proving that not only was the Blue Hill Reservation an amazing gift of nature within eyesight of Boston but it brought out the best in people. I certainly plan to return now that I’ve had such an enjoyable hiking venture there.

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