October 17, 2015

Killington Peak

We're back! Three years ago almost to the day, Katy and I hiked Mount Carrigain to complete our 48th and final New Hampshire 4000 footer. Since then, our lives have changed quite a bit as we now have two children and are as busy as ever. It's always been our goal to continue on with our peakbagging and tackle the New England 4000 footer list. We love our boys and we love being parents, but one thing that is certainly true is that finding the time (and the babysitters) to get out and hike a 4000 foot peak is quite a bit more challenging now. But last weekend, we found both! We decided to rent a condo in the Killington, VT area for Columbus Day weekend for a classic New England trip. We invited Katy's sister Patty and her boyfriend Mike to join us, and they graciously offered to watch the boys for a few hours on Saturday so that Katy and I could hike Killington Peak for our 49th New England 4000 footer and first outside of New Hampshire! It was definitely a different experience from our peakbagging trips in the past, but on Saturday morning we were ready to go and out the door of the condo to make the short drive over to the Bucklin Trailhead to start the hike.

It was about 10:00AM when we made it to the trailhead and were geared up to go. The weather was cool and crisp with forecasts in the 40's under mostly clear skies. The Bucklin Trail is about 3.5 miles long with a total of about 2500 feet of elevation gain. The first couple miles are quite straightforward though as they are mostly flat. We cruised along without issue, enjoying the fall foliage and just being out. The trail gradually became steeper and we continued to work our way up, passing a few other hikers along the way. It wasn't too long before we reached the trail junction with the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail (both the same trail during this stretch) which we followed for a short while. We passed by the Cooper Lodge Cabin and a few tent platforms before reaching the Killington Spur trail which is just a quarter mile to get to the summit. This section was short but quite steep, requiring a bit of scrambling as we rapidly popped out above the short Alpine Evergreen trees which were still covered in frost. We reached the summit which was busy with people and where apparently just seconds earlier a couple had just gotten engaged! Pretty cool.

Despite only seeing a few other hikers on the trail, the summit was packed. Killington Peak is a ski resort and while it wasn't ski season yet, they operate gondola rides to the top year round. It being a peak fall foliage weekend, there were plenty of people who made the trip up to catch the pretty spectacular views. We took some pictures and then made our way to the Peak Lodge, which has cafeteria style food available as well as a full service bar operating. In contrast to other summit services that I've seen (i.e. Mount Washington), this one was surprisingly posh and definitely catered to a certain crowd. Even though we brought our PB&J sandwiches, we decided to share one of the sandwich offerings from the menu which turned out to be quite good. It was fun to spend some time up there and take in all the mountain had to offer.

Overall we spent about an hour at the summit before beginning the journey down. The hike down was again fairly straightforward and we were at the bottom in short order. We made it back to the condo by about 3:30PM and were quickly back to our busy world but not before checking off number 49 of 67 on the New England 4000 Footer list!


September 29, 2015

Madison and Adams

About a month ago, Brian suggested that we go on a hike. Sounds like a great idea! After some coordination, we finally found a date that works, and we were locked in with a plan for this past Saturday. Since finding time to get these hikes in is not always easy to come by these days (Katy and I have two young children now and Brian has a toddler of his own keeping us all busy), I put some careful thought into what hike we should do. The criteria in my mind was something like this:
  1. Do-able in a single day, including driving there and back
  2. Big enough to be worth our while, somewhere in the 10 - 15 mile range
  3. Preferably prolonged, above treeline exposure for maximum views and remoteness "feel"
  4. Include a unique trail or two, one that is less heavily traveled and that we haven't done before
That's a pretty picky checklist, but hey why not be picky? And looking at the list, there was really one one place to go - back to the Northern Presidentials. Last year we took on a hike that met all of those checkboxes in the form of a Jefferson and Adams loop. This year, I figured we could go at it from the opposite side with a Madison and Adams loop. The key to this choice and one that checks off that last box on the list was to make the ascent from the Randolph East parking area up the Howker Ridge Trail. While we've both been up these mountains before, neither of us have been up this trail which avoids the typical and more heavily traveled routes leaving from Appalachia.

So the plan was set. We would meet at the Park and Ride lot in Nashua at 5:30AM to begin the day. Somewhere along the way, though, before the planned date, our twosome turned into a foursome. Mo and David, who are working on their 4000 footers list, joined the group for the outing. We added a daisy-chain to the carpool plan with Brian and I meeting at the Nashua Park and Ride at 5:30AM and then continuing on together to meet Mo and David at the Hooksett Park and Ride at 6:00AM. Fully consolidated, we made it to the Randolph East parking area at around 8:00AM. The weather was cool and clear and the forecast was for an absolutely perfect day in the high peaks. After getting organized for a few minutes, we were off.

The initial part of the hike was gradual and steady. We moved along at a reasonable pace and began to climb. There's a bit of a backstory to this hike, though, as not all members of the party ended in as good a shape as they started. Brian was actually on the fence about coming all week leading up to it, as his son brought home a nasty stomach virus early in the week that he caught and was still recovering from. He made the decision to go for it the night before, though, and early in the hike he was beginning to feel the effects of basically not eating all week. About halfway up Madison, he asked for the map and was planning an escape route. He was still going up Madison but didn't think he was up for the Adams portion of the hike. Nevertheless, we continued on.

A couple hours into the hike, we finally popped out above treeline. The Howker Ridge Trail did not disappoint as we made our way up and over each of the exposed "Howks" under the warm sun, clear skies, and calm conditions. We made it to the summit of Madison in about 3 hours or so and stopped for lunch and to soak in the views. After spending some time on the summit, we made the relatively simple descent from the Madison peak down to the Madison Hut. Brian made it, but he decided that he was done climbing up for the day and would skip Adams. Our original plan had us climbing up and over Adams without doubling back, but we modified our route slightly so that we could meet up with Brian and descend Airline after tagging the Adams summit.

So after a quick break, Mo, David, and I continued on to the summit of Adams. We actually made an error here as we planned on taking one trail to the peak but ended up on another. It turns out there are two trails from the hut that both will bring you to Adams in about the same distance. The difference is that the trail we took had some really neat, scrambly sections that required some more technical maneuvers to get up. Overall, it was a good mistake, and we made it to the summit in about an hour. We spent some time up there, but with a weird cloud of flies and mosquitos right on the peak, we headed down before too long. We made it back to the meeting point with Brian in reasonable time to continue our descent.

We headed down Airline which is a nice trail that keeps you up on the ridge line for a little ways before finally ducking down out of the Alpine Zone. While on the ridge we were eyeing the multiple routes up Kings Ravine to our left that looked absolutely unbelievable. Someday we'll have to return for a thrill and ascend up that headwall. In any case, we continued down, with Brian and I leading the front pack while Mo and David were separated a bit behind.

The hike down was a bit of a grind, with an interesting twist happening towards the end. Brian, of course, was still not feeling well but was gutting it out on the descent. However, while the two of us were waiting at a trail junction for Mo and David to meetup, Mo came running down and handed us her keys. She said to go ahead and get the car and bring it over to Appalachia to pick up David. I at first thought that David had some type of serious injury and we were going to need to mount a rescue operation. A few seconds after that though, though, David came strolling up behind Mo. It turns out that he, too, was starting to feel queasy and wanted to get done as quickly as possible.

So with both Brian and David feeling ill, I completed the last mile and half of the hike on my own to retrieve the car, while Mo, David, and Brian went one mile to Appalachia. After an easy walk, I picked up the car, retrieved the three of them down the road, and the hike was complete. We headed back, stopping for some pizza on the way home, to complete another epic day.

Despite the unusual twists, I really enjoyed the day and the hike. Hopefully we'll be back out there again soon.


October 30, 2014

Iron Mountain

In my previous Mount Avalon post, I described how we managed to get in a 52 With A View peak during our recent trip to AL and UP's condo in the White Mountains. However, what I didn't mention in that post is that during that same trip, and on the very next day after hiking Mount Avalon, we bagged another peak! We woke up on Monday morning without too many plans, with the exception of eventually packing up and heading home after an enjoyable holiday weekend. With the sun already shining and warmer temperatures then the day before, we thought it would be fun to get in another quick hike in the morning. The trailhead for Iron Mountain was only a few minutes drive away, and the hike itself was less than a mile each way. We asked around to see if anyone from the previous day's hiking team was interested in coming along, but didn't have any takers. So we quickly got dressed and headed out the door with the smaller crew of Owen and Katy plus Toby.

The road to the trailhead was a long, narrow dirt road. It was in good shape and we made it to the trailhead with no trouble but it definitely seems like it could be tough to get two cars past eachother in some spots. When we finally reached the trailhead, there was a small little parking area with room for about 5 or 6 cars with 3 other cars already there. We squeezed in a spot and got ready for the hike. Right off the bat the trail takes you through an open field with really nice panoramic views of the Presidentials. These were probably the best views of the entire hike. We worked our way up the easy trail and navigated the .8 miles in no trouble. About halfway to the top, Toby fell sound asleep and I could hear him snoring in my ear as we worked our way up the trail.

The summit is wooded with minimal views, and we opted to skip the extended trip to the ledges on the other side which would add another mile each way to the hike. Overall, though, it was a very enjoyable morning outing, and we were finished and back to the condo in time for lunch.


October 15, 2014

Mount Avalon

Katy, Toby, and I spent this past weekend at my Aunt and Uncle's (AL and UP) condo in Bartlett, NH taking a long break from Friday to Monday. Columbus Day weekend is typically considered the peak of fall foliage season in northern NH and this year it did not disappoint. We drove up early on Friday morning surrounded by nice weather and beautiful fall colors before spending a low-key day with AL and UP. Toby got accustomed to his new surroundings which he may or may not remember from a year ago when we visited on the same weekend when he was just 4 months old. My sister Mo and her boyfriend David also arrived later on Friday evening to spend the weekend as well.

Naturally, whenever we spend time at the condo we always like to take advantage of the opportunity to get some hiking in. Since Mo and David were looking to bag some 4000 footers, and we were working on the 52 With A View list, we thought it would make sense to find a hike where those two lists intersect. We found our answer with a hike departing from Crawford Depot in Crawford Notch. The first 2 miles of the hike bring you to the top of Mount Avalon which was our destination and a 52 With A View peak. From there, Mo and David could continue on to Mounts Tom, Field, and Willey to bag those three 4000 footers and we could turn around and head back down. The plan was set for Sunday morning where we would reunite the hiking team of Owen and Katy + Mo. (And David. And Toby. And UP.)

We got up at a reasonable hour on Sunday morning, planning to be out the door of the condo at 8:30 AM. We ended up probably a few minutes behind schedule and leaving just before 9AM. Katy, Toby, UP, and I headed out in our car, while Mo and David took theirs. To make their hike more interesting, we also arranged to meet at the Willey House site and spot a car for Mo and David to turn their hike into a traverse. By the time we did the whole car drop, drive to Crawford Depot, organize our gear, and use the restrooms, it was about 9:30 AM and we were on the trail. It was quite chilly at the start, with temperatures in the 40's and the warm layers, hats, and gloves on. I made fun of Katy for having to borrow UP's hat and gloves again after we both had to do the same thing 4 years ago when we originally bagged Tom, Field, and Willey on this same weekend. Despite the mishap, we were all warm and ready to go.

The hike up Avalon is not difficult but does have a fairly steep section for the last half mile. We worked our hiking team up the mountain as Toby once again narrated what he saw. Our hike started off with some cloudiness, but as we approached the top, the clouds began to burn off. The view from Avalon is quite nice with angles looking down into Crawford Notch as well as overlooking the Crawford Depot where we started. After giving Toby some time out of the pack, snapping a number of photos, and grabbing some water and a snack, we headed back down. It was here that we wished Mo and David good luck as they had a grander destination. Katy, Toby, UP, and I headed back down to the car.

After separating from Mo and David, Toby began to protest his current situation. I can't say for certain what he was complaining about, but it was his first prolonged stretch of unhappiness that we have experienced while hiking with him. We stopped and gave him some water and a snack, and did a quick smell test for the diaper, but once we started to continue on again, he continued to cry. I think he might have gotten cold hands when his gloves fell off for a few minutes. In any case, nothing was helping, and we were a mile and half away from the car. I didn't have much choice but to just hike with a crying baby on my back. I have to say that this is probably the first time that I really felt judged for doing what we do. I know many people have varying, and perhaps very strong opinions about hiking with a baby, but I didn't really feel those opinions until that moment. I had to pass many people on the way down the mountain while Toby was very unhappy, and the looks and comments I got came in all shapes in sizes, some positive, some not so.

Not long after Toby started doing this, I at one point took a look back at Katy and she just waved her hands forward "Don't wait for me." she said. So I headed down, as swiftly and safely as I could. I started talking to Toby, asking him where the sky was, where the trees were, and where the rocks were. This in combination with the jostling of the quick pace began to calm him down. His cries got slower and he clearly was getting tired. He finally fell asleep on my back and the last 10 minutes of the hike I heard Toby snoring in my ear. I got to the bottom around 12 PM and took a seat at a picnic table. Toby woke up and was as happy as ever, and we sat there looking at the passers by and the cars until Katy arrived about a half hour later. We got Toby situated in the car at that point and then UP arrived shortly after that so we could head back to the condo and have some lunch.

I hope someday Toby looks back at the adventures that we brought him on and appreciates the way we helped him learn about the world when he was young. More likely he will probably just say, "Mom and Dad, you were crazy." I'm ok with that too.