Hike 20 of the #52hikechallenge: Mount Monadnock

Two years ago, Mt. Monadnock kicked my ass.

So, when a break in the heat was forecast, and with an office-mate eager to join, it only seemed fitting to try again.

We set out “early” from Boston, in an effort to beat what we knew would be big crowds. We only marginally succeeded, but on a nice weekend, hikers everywhere flock to Monadnock.

Monadnock means “mountain which stands alone”; it’s not part of a mountain range. What an appropriate 20th hike for a girl like me, generally adrift alone in the world. Because while it may stand alone, it also stands tall and proud and is worth every minute you spend with it. Kind of like me. 😉

Having been roundly smacked down by the Red Dot trail in my 7-ish mile hike last time, this time I decided to go with the crowd and do the White Dot to the White Cross Trail loop. This is the hike that everyone does, with good reason. For example, while the hike is pretty darn steep, it only lasts for about 2 miles. Even stopping and starting as we did, it simply can’t take all that long to get to the top of a 2-mile hike at less than 3000 feet of altitude.

Also, once you get up high, there are incredible views every 5 feet, which offers plenty of chances to “admire the view” while gasping for air.

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Monadnock does this little head-fake that crushes the souls of unprepared hikers: after slogging up some pretty serious rocks and boulders, hikers reach what “should” be the top – a nice open space just at the edge of the treeline – but instead, it gives you a view of the summit, which looks at least 5 miles away. In reality, it’s only .5 miles.

On this hike, I was prepared for that tantalizing view, and even could appreciate the dad warning his pre-teen daughter that, when they reached the open spot they would “have a discussion” about if they were going to go on. It’s worth pointing out that this little girl was hiking about twice as a fast as me, so I had no doubt she’d make it all the way to the top. We’d also been lapped by a troupe of boys and their handlers, as well as a dude who thanked us for letting him pass by proclaiming: “It’s just hard for me to stop once I get going. And I’m carrying 25 lbs of climbing gear”, thus making me want to smack his smug ass right into the woods.

But soon we reached the point in the hike that makes most folks wonder “why do I do this again?” The slab of granite stretches above, with nothing for it but to trust our shoes, enjoy the calf stretch, and get it done.

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As we were trudging up this, we ran into the leaders of the troupe of boys, on their way down, who seemed genuinely delighted to see us, which of course made me wonder if they thought we wouldn’t make it at all.

But we did, with a few dozen of our closest friends.  We reached the top of the world, with 360 degree views of NH, VT and MA, and a cold, whipping wind that felt great after the sweaty heat of walking above tree line in the sun.

I didn’t get very many photos from the top, because, to be honest, I just wanted to look at the view. At one point, I actually felt my head sag with relief, and it’s not exaggerating to say I felt all the crap of my daily life fall away with a huge sigh that took me by surprise. There is something about the view from the highest point – there is something about it that makes me feel better, no matter where I am.

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We spent some time agreeing that the payoff was worth the effort, and then it was back down those pesky rocks, which is a different kind of stress on the legs. By the end, I was longing for the sandstone of the canyons of Utah, because even if you’re going up or down out there, more often than not the stone is somewhat forgiving on your feet. In the granite mountains of NH, each step jars, and by the time you’ve done 2+ miles of clamoring down, you’re just glad you don’t have 2 more.

Hike 20, even thought it was short, was the hardest one I’ve done yet of the 52 Hike Challenge, and I hope that the rest of the year brings more such challenges. As anyone with a bit of math skills has figured out, I’m pretty behind on this challenge, and moving to the beach in a month isn’t going to make finishing any easier. But I am going to stick to it, because, well…I started, so finishing is the next thing to do.

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Hikes 18 & 19 of the #52hikechallenge: Dogs rule

I won’t lie – it’s getting tougher to find inspiration for the #52hikechallenge these days. I am longing for a trip where I can pack 3 or 4 hikes into a couple of days; I’m longing for a trip that takes me to canyons and mountain lakes and waterfalls. But, my work schedule and some big upcoming projects mean I need to stay close to home and save my pennies. Thus, I head back to my favorite haunts and look for ways to make them seem fresh.

In reality, once I’m out on the trail it’s all good, but it’s the getting there that’s proving harder than it should be. Reading this, I think I’m just lazy and need to get off my ass. Here’s looking at you, next weekend (this weekend I had to clean my apartment – no, I had to, I promise – and it was supposed to rain (it didn’t), so I skipped a week).

20 hikes is so close. I’m behind the pace, but I have high hopes for some trips later this year that will help me catch up before the end of 2018. Anyway, after focusing on my family twice in a row, it seemed fitting that these last two hikes be about my usual hiking companion, my sweet pup Sadie.

Hike 18: Ward Reservation + Boston Hill

I’ve told you of my love of Ward Reservation before. Indeed, since the Trustees of Reservations have recently decided to change their dog policies and demand dogs be on leash at my other favorite, Noanet Woodlands, Ward might now officially be my favorite spot in the Greater Boston area. It’s one of the few remaining places where Sadie and I can explore the woods at our own paces.

This my girl:

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She’s going on 9-ish (her actual age, like her Arkansan origins, are a mystery) and she loves being on the trail with me. There’s a zone of about 50 feet from me that she roams in, trotting ahead, then falling behind to sniff all the things, and racing back to me if we get separated. Occasionally, if we’re heading up something, she’ll stop and peek back at me to make sure I’m following. If I stop, she generally stops too; no judgment, just patience. It’s marvelous.

As she gets older, I worry about her stamina, so we don’t usually go beyond 4-5 miles, especially in the summer. This hike was supposed to start early in the day, but as usual I set off later than planned, so by the time we got into it, it was mid-morning and the cool of morning had burned away.

We went in a reverse loop from our normal path, which made for a nice change. We started with the quick hike up to Holt Hill, which features one of my favorite settings and views.

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Can you see Boston waaay off in the distance on the left side of the horizon?

Then we headed on the blue trail toward Elephant Rock. Along the way, we took a little detour onto Boston hill, which was a narrow, cobwebby trail that snaked around some pretty dense hillside forest. Something back there smelled divine (I think it was honeysuckle?) – more than once I just stopped and stood sniffing for minutes on end. At one point on this trail, Sadie got distracted and fell behind, and I got to enjoy listening for her galloping at full speed down the twisty path once she realized I was out of sight. There is something about this that just makes me happy.

Before we reached Elephant Rock, I noticed this new feature of the trail:

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I hope you’ll forgive the heavy, sentimental editing hand, but good grief. Can this be any more idyllic for those who travel in twos? Sadie refused to sit with me, by the way.

Approaching Elephant Rock from a different direction made a nice change. This really is one of the prettiest places I know of around here.

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And then it was back through the forest toward the parking lot. By this point, it was pretty warm and we were getting tired. And of course, Sadie had to find the muddiest creek and slosh about in it. Of course. When we got back to the car, we cranked the AC and celebrated a lovely New England morning spent in the woods. Well, I did, at any rate. Sadie hates the car.

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Hike 18: Ward Reservation and Boston Hill
Location: Andover, MA
Date: June 10, 2018
Distance: 4.68 miles
Wildlife: Bugs, the occasional squirrel
Notes: Don’t forget your bug spray!


Hike 19: Reservoir Trail, Middlesex Fells Reservation

Next up, a trail we’ve done before, but not since the start of #52hikechallenge.

Middlesex Fells Reservation, or The Fells, as it’s known, is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. It’s a huge property that is pretty close to Boston, just a couple of exits up on Route 93. It’s a lovely place, but dogs have to be on-leash there, so we don’t hike it very often. They do have a huge off-leash dog park at the head of the trails, which is very nice of them.

Anyway, for a trail with a name like Reservoir, there wasn’t much water to be seen on this trek. It’s about a 6-mile loop, and it does indeed loop a couple of reservoirs, but the trail itself is far enough into the woods that water is only seen a few times. This is one of those odd hikes, like in the Blue Hills, where all kinds of trails wind in and around each other, so while one person can be clamoring up some rocks on the Reservoir Trail, a family can be strolling on a flat open path just 20 feet away. As the miles fell away and the temperatures climbed and the views didn’t really impress, I was tempted to bail on the “moderate” trail (it’s really quite easy, actually, despite a few boulder-strewn sections) and just walk by the water, but I persisted.

This hike was an example of another way my dog is amazing: she can do 6 miles on-leash and not pull my arm off. And it really is a good idea to keep your dogs on leash on this trail, because you share it with mountain bikers, and you don’t want to be the one who causes them to take a fall and/or run over your dog.

About 5 miles in, you do get a nice view of the reservoir:

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We stopped for a break here, to Sadie’s delight:

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The last stretch of the hike skirted the dog park, and we got a little turned around on the trails behind it, but eventually emerged into the hot sun and trudged back to the car. Sadie was dragging by this point; we stopped for a drink near a tree and she flopped delightedly into the cool grass and could probably have stayed there all day. We both napped when we got home. 🙂

Hike 19: Reservoir Trail, Middlesex Fells
Location: Winchester, MA
Date: June 17, 2018
Distance: 6.3 miles
Wildlife: Bugs, chipmunks, mountain bikers

Hikes 16 and 17 of the #52hikechallenge: Family time

A recent visit to see my new nephew, followed by a parental invasion, led to adding two more hikes to my list. Though they were far from my most challenging, of course I included them, because I got to share love of being outside with the people that matter most to me.

For those who haven’t been following along with my #52hikechallenge – it’s basically a hiking challenge where I try to hike 52 times in a year. So far, I am quite behind, but pressing doggedly forward. I skipped a blog post about #hike15 – it was just a romp through the Blue Hills with nothing terribly exciting to report.


#HIKE16: Lake Lawson, Virginia

This toddler-friendly hike was suggested by my sister-in-law. On a rainy weekend, we managed to find a clear window, and loaded mom, dad, aunt, pre-schooler, 3-month-old, and a giant-ass stroller into the family minivan (which, it’s worth pointing out, had room to spare). It was probably 100% humid out, and it looked like the skies could open at any time, but we were determined.

As we began the route, we strolled along a widely paved path on the way to a playground. Everyone seemed quite comfortable with this level of challenge. 🙂

Lake Lawson (1 of 4).jpgI was worried the playground would be the end of the adventure, but luckily we had our explorers hats on, and we continued into the park.

“Claire,” I said to my niece. “Did you know this is one of my favorite things to do? Walk in the woods?”

I wish I could have captured her face that at moment. She shook her head, answering my question, but also gave me this look as if to say “You are crazy, Auntie.” It was clear this wasn’t her comfort zone, so I began a bit of a campaign to get her to look around and open up her imagination a little bit. As we rounded a corner to an isthmus that speared between two parts of the lake, I heard her say “Whoa!” and knew we were making some progress. As I stopped to snap a couple of pictures, she asked “why are you taking those pictures?” Because the trees are cool, I answered. We agreed that this one was creepy like a spider.

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The bridge to the “island” portion of the park held great fascination, and as we cleared, I pointed out where we were on the map and asked Claire if she wanted to keep going around the loop. She nodded yes, and her parents shrugged as if to say “Whatever. You’ll have to carry her if she gets tired.” So off we went to tromp through the woods and make a loop of the island.

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The loop was full of mountain laurel and the occasional platform with a view of the lake. Claire and I led the way, with my nephew Elliott in his stroller following behind, and she started to enjoy herself a bit more. We invented songs for the various up, down, and flat portions of the trail (really, it was all pretty flat, but when you’re 4.5, hills are bigger in proportion), and Claire pointed out that the smaller trails leading off the main trails, which had branches growing over, blocking the path, were the “Ouchie Trails”. I got great joy out of imagining using that phrase when I inadvertently led my hiking partners off trail in the future.

After about 1.5 miles, we emerged back onto the paved path as thunder boomed in the distance; our timing was excellent. Claire made it the whole way; auntie was very proud of her. Elliott was unimpressed and slept the whole time.

Hike 16: Lake Lawson
Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Date: May 19, 2018
Distance: 1.57 miles
Wildlife:  chipmunks, birds
Notes: The first of many hikes with my niece/nephew, I hope.


#Hike17: Great Blue Hill

It’s become a tradition of sorts when my parents visit; I take them on a hike to some of my favorite trails around Boston. On Memorial Day, instead of heading into the city to play tourist, we headed out of it to play in the woods.

I’ve hiked the Blue Hills many times, but never with my parents in tow. This hike was probably the most challenging one I’ve taken them on, and they rocked it. We started at the Trailside museum parking lot, and took the easy green dot trail for about a mile and a half, maybe. Because my folks are flatlanders, and not habitual hikers, I choose routes that start easy, but generally trust them to get up some of the steeper parts, depending on how things are going.

“Are there any views on this trail?” asked my dad.

“Yes,” I replied, instantly deciding that I would, in fact, lead them up to the top of the hill. So we started up, and my mom’s eyes widened a bit. But slowly, steadily, we made our way up. I love hiking with my parents, because all pressure goes off of me to set a fast pace or minimize how much I’m sucking wind; it’s all about paying attention to them and being sure they know it is totally ok to stop whenever needed. We next hooked up with the red dot trail, which climbed up at a decent slope to the top of Great Blue Hill, which boasts a tower and one of the oldest operating weather stations in the country. It was foggy and cloudy, so the beautiful view of Boston wasn’t visible, but it was still pretty. We snacked while sitting on a rock near the weather tower and agreed this was a pretty great way to spend an afternoon.

The path down was where I wondered if I’d pushed my folks too far. Clamoring down big boulders can actually be harder than going up them (see previous hikes in the Whites and Mt. Monadnock), and it’s easy to roll an ankle or twist a knee.

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But as I said, they rocked it. My mom even got that little jaunt her step at one point – you know, where you could just tell that she was feeling badass. I of course, had to warn her that such moments are usually when I roll my ankle, but lo and behold, they made it down in grand form.

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I was very proud of them. And we enjoyed a tasty meal that night that included a fried Mars Bar – without guilt. Well, without much guilt, anyway.

Hike 17: Great Blue Hill
Location: Milton, MA
Date: May 28, 2018
Distance: 2.82 miles
Wildlife:  squirrels, birds


 

When you have no choice but to go slow: #hike14 of #52hike challenge

All around me, everything is changing…fast. Once spring arrives, it passes in what seems like a blink. My friends’ kids, whom I knew when they were in elementary school, are suddenly going to prom (and college, but somehow prom is more disconcerting). New jobs, new babies, new marriages, new cities, new adventures…it seems like everyone I know is making some kind of change.

And here I sit, doing none of those things.

Contentment has never been in my DNA. 4 years is usually my limit; after that, either deliberately or with a little shove from the universe, I tend to make big life changes like choosing to go to grad school, moving to a house and getting a dog, or maybe even moving to Boston. This is my 5th year in Beantown, so, you do the math.

Cue feelings of restlessness and fernweh (look it up – it’s a wonderful word). Normally, I’d work these feelings out (or at least keep them at bay for a bit) by hiking up to the top of a tall mountain.

So, was it some kind of sign that last week, while doing nothing particularly exciting in a volleyball game, I suddenly had zinging little bolts of OW in my knee? And that the next morning, I woke up barely able to hobble downstairs to let my dog out?

It’s no great revelation to say that we really don’t notice what we have until it’s no longer there. My ability to get from point A to B using only my feet and legs is one of those things that, as a single city-living gal, is essential to daily life. When I suddenly can’t hop nimbly off the bus and trudge the .75 miles home from the station…that’s kind of a bummer. It certainly forces me to slow down.

The same is true for my dog, who found herself straining at the end of a leash as, on Saturday – a most glorious, spring-like Saturday when the whole world was exploding into color, and just begging me to take a long, long hike – all I could do was hobble down to the nearby Arboretum to see the cherry blossoms. We barely got a mile and a half of walking in. This is not normal for us. Weekends are for multiple miles so that we are tired and jelly-legged when it’s all said and done. When we don’t get our miles in, the whole rest of the week feels off.

So, on Sunday, I couldn’t take it anymore. I ran through all of my favorite local hikes, searching for those that would involve Sadie being off leash, and me being on fairly level, non-challenging ground. It was supposed to rain; I didn’t care. I didn’t know how far my knee would let me go; I didn’t care. We needed to get in motion.

Thus, we headed to Noanet Woodlands, another Trustees of Reservations property, and one of my favorite places locally. It’s my favorite because of the wide, well-maintained trails, and the variety of stuff to see:

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The remnants of an old Iron Mill Works site that has long vanished from this property. It only flows when the pond above it is full, and with all of our rain this spring, it was!

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The view from atop Noanet “Peak” – that’s Boston way off in the distance.

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Sawmill Pond, one of my favorite places to sit and reflect…except when my bench is drowned by the pond.

It turned out to be a lovely, non-rainy day in the woods. The trees hadn’t started to turn green yet, but the water was high, as you can see above. I discovered that my knee fared just fine on uphill and downhill climbs; it was the long, straight, flat paths where it started to bother me again.

Is that a metaphor for my life? Maybe.

I had to slow down because I had no choice, a good reminder that there are some things we have control over, and some we don’t, and we should stay focused on the latter. And yes, sometimes things hurt, but when it got too bad, I would stop, utter a few choice words, take a moment to adjust my stride, and keep going.

If you want self-helpisms, there are a couple of obvious ones for ya. 🙂

Anyway, it took me longer than it ever has before, but I got in 3 miles. I wasn’t even limping too badly at the end. Plus, Sadie got to run and romp and chase sticks and wade in muddy ponds. So, I find myself pretty darn proud of this little hike.

And ready for a bigger hill pretty darn soon, I hope.


Hike 14: Noanet Woodlands
Location: Dover, Massachusetts
Date: April 29, 2018
Distance: 3 miles
Wildlife:  Squirrels, robins, the occasional dog/human pairing

You should hike this: Gulf Hagas

“Why is it called Gulf Hagas?”

This is the question I forgot to ask the range guides when they quietly snuck up behind us as we stood at the 2nd of two water crossings.

I can be forgiven for this oversight, because for the last 5 minutes, I’d been standing at the water’s edge trying to figure out a way to get across that didn’t involve a) completely soaking my feet or b) falling into the rushing water. My hiking partner had already successfully leapt, gazelle-like, across the water to try to set up his camera for a picture. And, he had also already leapt back to my side, but that attempt was not, ahem, as successful as the first. Luckily, he was fine, if a little soggy.

Give that his legs are longer and his courage greater than mine, this wasn’t boding well for my plan to cross without mishap.

Anyway, as I was pondering all of this, the range guides appeared behind us, and began a gentle interrogation to be sure we knew what we were getting into with the Gulf Hagas trail.

  • Did we understand that it had rained recently? Given that it still was raining, this seemed obvious.
  • Did we know that the rocks were going to be slippery? See previous note about the rain; check.
  • Did we know there was a flat way to come back after we’d done the Rim Trail? Yes, and I was delighted about that fact.
  • Did we have headlamps? (It’s worth noting that it was 11am when she asked this.) Yes, of course, we replied, and got an approving nod and a “smart”, which made me feel irrationally superior to pretty much everyone else in the world.

After the interrogation ended, in the way of smart outdoor safety people, one of the guides seemed to clue in that I was struggling to figure out how to get across and offered up a solution that gave me permission to be less gazelle-like than my friend. So I took off my boots, donned my water shoes for the 2nd time in as many miles, headed a few feet upstream, and waded across without incident. And then we set out on the Appalachian Trail, which led us eventually to the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail.

Backing up a bit, here are the basics on the Gulf Hagas hike. This map lays it out nicely, too. We stayed in Greenville, Maine, aka way-the-hell-up-there, and the trailheads (there are two), were about 40 minutes away by long dirt road. The hike can be anywhere from 8.5 to 9 miles roundtrip, depending on where you start (you can also make shorter loops out of the trip, but I won’t be discussing those here). There are two trailheads: East and West. If you start at the East, as we did, you’ll have to ford two water crossings twice (on the way out and the way back). At the biggest crossing, I’m told the water can be waist high at times; for us, it was just over knee-deep at the deepest point. And it was cold and the current was fairly strong. I wore my water shoes and that helped, but even with them, the rocks were slippery. My friend did the crossings barefoot, which I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t recommend if it can be avoided.

However, it felt pretty adventuresome to be “fording” a river, so don’t let the cold and the wet dissuade you. Just bring an extra pair of socks in case, like me, you accidentally drop your first pair into the water. Next, you’ll cross a smaller portion of the river – this is where I took my shoes off for a 2nd time to get across.

After the water crossings, you’ll be on the AT for a little while, then you’ll find yourself on a 2+ mile adventure up and down and over rocks and tree roots. There are quite a few viewpoints to be explored, which adds mileage and time to the hike – for these miles we were averaging about a mile an hour. These diversions are totally worth it, though – the waterfalls come one right after the other and they are wonderful.

Disclaimer from here forward: I may have the names of these falls messed up. Sorry about that. Perhaps you will just have to go hike this yourself and correct me.

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Screw Auger Falls

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Buttermilk Falls

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Billings Falls

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You can see why this is called the Grand Canyon of the East. What’s really wild about this canyon is that it used to be used for logging. It’s hard to see how that could possibly have worked, given the narrowness of the various places we saw.

As you reach the end of the first leg of the hike, you’ll come to the Head of the Gulf, where rivers converge and where you can really feel the power of the water. Then, you’ll make a choice which way to come back; either retracing your steps, or taking the Tote Road back to the AT Junction with the Rim trail. I highly recommend this option (since it’s the one we did), as the footing was easier and after all the up and down and making sure to not fall into the canyon on the slippery rocks, it felt nice to just tramp through the woods.

In our case, it was also getting dark, and so getting back to the car and eventually to dinner was on our minds. I chose to put my water shoes on at the first, smaller river crossing, and then do to next mile or so in them until we reached the bigger crossing. My legs were pretty tired by this point (even in on a rainy day its important to drink enough water so you don’t get muscle cramps, like I did), so I took extra care with the river crossings. We were glad for my trekking poles for this crossing, too.

And we didn’t need the headlamps, but another few moments and we would have!

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As I finish this post, it’s months since we did this hike (it was in late October 2017), but it still stands out as a fun day spent exploring some incredible terrain. I have heard from others that the black flies and bugs can be brutal during the summer months, so there is some advantage to coming in the late fall, though I’d recommend not waiting as long as we did; most of the leaves were gone, and we kept saying “I’ll bet this is pretty when the foliage is at its peak.”

And for the record, I have done everything but ask a librarian and I still don’t know why it’s called Gulf Hagas.

Thanks for coming along! Let me know in the comments if you have done this hike or plan to!