Mount Abraham & Mount Ellen (Vermont)

 

A few weeks after our trip up to the presidential range in the White Mountains, Chris and I decided it was time to tackle another hike in the Green Mountains of Vermont. We were looking forward to getting a couple peaks in a short(ish) trip, so we decide that a climb of Abraham and Ellen would be next on our plate. We set out around 7 in the morning, and made our way to Vermont, anticipating a good day for our second Vermont hike!

As we made our way into central Vermont, we started to check the roads and sights for our turn-off to get towards the trailhead. I did have a general idea where the trailhead at Lincoln Gap would be, but I decided to follow Chris and let his GPS lead the way since it clearly looked to be a bit off the beaten path. Once we got through Bristol, Vermont, a charming, rustic small town, we turned off on Lincoln Gap Road and started a very interesting journey. The road paralleled a stream for a distance, and passed through a very small town before we eventually lost most traces of civilization, including the pavement! The road continued as a well maintained dirt road for a while before it suddenly started climbing and twisting pretty significantly. I can say with confidence that that mile or two uphill on the dirt road was probably the toughest condition I’ve put my Corolla through, but it handled it like it a champ, and we eventually reached pavement again right as we got to the Gap and saw the trailhead. Getting to the trailhead isn’t the simplest thing, but the benefit of starting at a high elevation was nice, as we had a good 13 miles to do and were only starting around 10:30 AM. We grabbed our packs and gear quickly and started along the Long Trail towards Abraham.

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Considering it took us a lot longer to get to the trailhead then we imagined it would, I took it upon myself to start off with a pretty high pace, since I kind of wanted to get back before it got too late. We started ascending immediately, but the trail never really got to be terribly steep or technical. It was a fairly straight forward trail through the forest for about 1.7 miles until we intercepted the Battell Trail and got to the Battell shelter. This was not only a nice spot to take a quick break, but also a landmark to let me know we were less than a mile from the summit of Abraham.

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The climb up from there was about as consistent as the first section, and before we knew it we were starting to flatten out as we finally reached the flat, rocky summit of Mount Abraham!

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The summit area of Abraham was actually a pretty cool experience, considering I wasn’t expecting too much from it. The summit is fairly flat, and relatively large, with a great deal of bare rock to accommodate the decent crowd that formed up top. The drop from the summit isn’t terribly cliff-like, but it’s also fairly dramatic and gives you an amazing view of prairies and small farms dotting the forest to the west. It’s a very unfamiliar view to see all these houses in the valley at the bottom of the mountain, since most high peaks are deep within wilderness areas, but the scenery was very beautiful and unique enough to leave a lasting memory for me. We took a few minutes to get a drink and a snack up top before heading down the Long Trail for what would be a 3.5 mile rolling walking towards our second summit of the day.

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A look towards Ellen

By the time we got off the summit of Abraham, Chris started mentioning to me that his knee was not holding up terribly well, but unsurprisingly, that didn’t slow us down one bit. After getting to a sub-peak with a nice summit area, we ended up wandering around ski trails before eventually finding that the trail sneakily took a weird turn into the woods that we didn’t obviously see at first.

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Once in the woods, we encountered some pretty extensive blow-down in the trail, which we had to negotiate carefully, but that didn’t slow us down much either, since we were really just on a mission to get that last peak and get out. It really was just one of those hikes where you put your head down and persevere even when you know it’s not gonna be the greatest view or the greatest condition.

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We went up and down a few sub-peaks on our way, but we finally ended up on the unmarked summit of Ellen sometime around 2 PM. Initially I walked by it, and got down to the ski trails just north, just to make sure there wasn’t a greater summit down the line. Unfortunately, the height of land was the little spot in the woods we passed, which really didn’t have much of a summit area to enjoy. It was heavily wooded and had no particularly notable features or even partial views. It was a bit of a deflating moment after the additional 2 hour walk we took from Abraham to get there, but at the very least, we managed to get another peak crossed off our list!

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Lets put one more pebble on the cairn on Ellen…

The hike back over the sub-peaks was a bit annoying, especially for Chris since his knee was really starting to scream at him, but we made it back to the summit area of Abraham in very short order, and we were welcomed by a much better view than we had there earlier in the day. Instead of seeing clouds at the ridge to the west, we could now see well past it, getting a really nice view of central Vermont from up above. We enjoyed the view and a break for a second, before heading back towards the Battell Shelter, then back to Lincoln Gap and making our way back to New York. I was very happy to get back to the road by about 6 PM, proving, as I had thought, that we were making really good time for our day. Overall, the trip was very enjoyable and featured some very interesting/unique views and climbing experiences along the way.

 

Recommendations: I would recommend hiking Abraham for just about anybody, regardless of condition. It’s a very short hike, and there isn’t a huge amount of elevation gain from Lincoln Gap (even though the road to the trail head is a bit rough). The views on Abraham are enjoyable, and the summit area is large enough to accommodate a good crowd. Ellen, on the other hand, is a far less enjoyable hike up and down rolling hills, and through blow-down fields, without any views or notable features. I would only recommend adding it if you are trying to get all the 4,000 footers in New England or the Northeast.

Difficulty: Abraham – 3, Ellen – 5

Views: Abraham – 8, Ellen – 1

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Mount Washington & Mount Monroe

 

After a good warm-up hike on Wildcat the day before, we decided that the second day of our White Mountains trip should be spent in the Presidential Range, trying to summit one of the crown jewels of the White Mountains. After carefully studying the maps, and taking into account a lacking form and possible fatigue, I decided we should go ahead and climb Mount Washington and Mount Monroe. While it seemed like it might be a struggle coming off of a tough day before and a recent back injury, I couldn’t help but notice that the trail from Ammonoosuc Ravine seemed rather forgiving, at least based on the contour map. My guess was that it wouldn’t actually be an overwhelming ascent despite Washington’s massive elevation. Plus, I thought it would be a pretty nice cap to the weekend trip to stand on top of the highest peak in the Northeast!

We left the hotel we were staying at in North Conway at about 7 AM in order to get an early start to the day. We managed to find a decent spot to have breakfast on the way to the Base Road where our trailhead was. The road up to the Ammonoosuc Trailhead is also the road that leads to the Cog railway that can bring you up to the summit of Mount Washington the easy way. We had the intention of earning the summit the hard way though, and parked at the parking area about 2/3 of the way up the road. From there we would have about a 3 mile ascent to the col between Monroe and Washington where the Lake of the Clouds Hut is located. From there it should be a simple ¼ mile up to Monroe one way and a relatively gentle mile and a half up to the summit of the famed Mount Washington the other way.

We got to the parking lot a little before 9 and luckily found that there were a decent amount of spots left. If we had been going to the Garden Parking Lot or even the ADK Loj parking lot on a day like that we could assume there may not be any parking spots left, but in the White Mountains there’s actually a decent amount of access points to the mountains, which makes parking just a little bit easier. After gathering our gear we set off on the trail at about 9 AM on quest for Mount Monroe which would be roughly 3.5 miles uphill from there.

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The first mile of the trail actually paralleled the road to the base of the Cog Railway, which allowed us a great opportunity to warm-up before the hard climbing could start. As we got further down the trail we could actually hear the sound of the railcar taking off, bringing pedestrians up to the summit for a somewhat hefty fee. I understand a lot of people simply can’t get up a tough climb like Washington for many different reasons, but from an economical standpoint, I much prefer to climb the mountain than pay to be brought up (but, to each their own). After about a mile, we hit a junction, where the trail lead off to the parking lot at the railway base and we took a right hand turn there to start our steep 2 mile ascent to the hut at the base of Monroe.

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Once we turned onto the real ascent, we realized quickly that we would be paralleling the Ammonoosuc Ravine pretty closely as we continued uphill. The trail really began to remind me a lot of the ascent along the Opalescent River as you head towards the col between Mount Redfield and Cliff Mountain. Both trails have very similar features and are simultaneously easy to follow and easy on the feet. Despite us needing to ascend a considerable amount of elevation, it didn’t really seem like we were doing too much work because the gradient was rather consistent early on. About half way up we ran into a group of people who were emerging from a side trail, and they mentioned there were some pretty cool waterfalls down the path. We had just stopped at a waterfall pool about two tenths of a mile back, but since the climb was starting to wind-up and get fairly steep, I thought it would be a nice idea to stop and check out the view, while catching my breath a little bit too.

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The waterfall section was very picturesque, definitely some of the best we’d seen in the White Mountains thus far, but I was mostly just happy for the excuse to stop for a second. Once you hit the first waterfall the climbing becomes a little bit steeper and more relentless. At no point does the climb get unbearable, but the last mile there is a bit tough, and we could definitely see the results as we passed and leap-frogged a bunch of different groups on the open part of the steep section towards the top. As the trail opened up at elevation we began to see some cool views to the north and west, including the railway going up to the summit. At that point the trail up to the ridge basically transitioned out of the woods and onto steep flat rock slabs.

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The rocky section was relatively easy to follow, as we meandered around few small trickles of water going down the mountain, and we were able to make good progress on the last little kick. After Chris and I spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure what ripple in the background could be our mountain, the 3 of us finally reached the plateau at the base of Monroe, where we finally could see not only the hut and the Lake of the Clouds, but also the two mountains we would be summiting.

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The scenery at the hut was amazing, as we could get a close-up view of just how massive Mount Washington really is, and also get to take in a large alpine zone with some unique characteristics. The plateau is over 5,000 feet in elevation and features a pair of ponds, and with the view of the mountains behind it, I can safely say it’s one of the most-interesting spots in all of the Northeast 115. We stopped at the hut to re-group for a moment and quickly headed up to the summit of Monroe, which we could see pretty clearly just to our south. The Appalachian trail section just past the summit trail towards Monroe was closed for repairs, and the signs warned that there could be a pretty hefty fine or jail time for anyone who trespassed on the trail maintenance zone. Luckily, we had no intention of ever taking that trail around anyway, and instead took a right and trudged up a quarter mile of rocks and boulders until we finally reached the rocky summit of Mount Monroe!

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Monroe was exactly the kind of picturesque mountain-top summit that we’ve become used to in our hiking travels. The summit was completely rocky, thanks to its high elevation, and provided 360 views of the lower part of the Presidential Range and the valleys below. It’s a relatively quick side-hike if you’re planning on summiting Washington, and since it offers some views (and some serenity) that you don’t quite get on Washington, I’d highly recommend taking a second to climb up to Mount Monroe. The 3 of us took a few minutes to enjoy the summit and the cooler weather up top, and quickly retraced our steps to start up to our final destination of the day; Washington.

We got back to the hut in very short order, with Washington in our sights. It would only be about a mile and a half up to the summit, and we could see the entire ascent from where we were standing as the trail zig-zagged up the rocky mountain. We first started navigating around the two small lakes on the plateau, one of which had a scientific research area at its shore.

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The weather up in this altitude has been billed as wild, and I’ve seen countless videos online of people struggling in severe weather on Washington, but that wasn’t anything we were able to verify on that day. The weather was perfectly calm as we made our way up to the top of Washington, much to our surprise. We climbed steadily without too many problems, stopping only a few times to chat with other people who were coming up and down the tough parts. For a large climb, the Washington ascent was actually quite steady, without any scrambles or technical spots, and the only real concern going up was navigating some loose rock on the trails. As we got closer to the top, we started seeing all the other trails coming from other directions intersect the Appalachian Trail section we were on, and soon after we saw the sign for the trail leading up to the weather tower on the summit, marking our final destination. Besides having to watch our footing for loose rock, we made it up to the top with relative ease, finally reaching our summit just before 2 PM.

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The summit of Washington was a much different experience that any of had seen in the High Peaks thus far. We’d run into crowds on summits before, but this was the first time we’d climbed into a major tourist attraction. There’s an entire summit center up top, equipped with restrooms, a gift shop, a cafeteria, and even a post office! In the back of my mind, I knew there would be amenities at the top of the mountain because of the highway and railway up to the top, but seeing it with my own eyes and seeing the crowd of well over 100 people on top was mind-blowing! There were so many buildings up top that it was nearly impossible to get an uninterrupted 360 view on top of the mountain, which was a bit of a shame. However, if you manage your way around the large summit area, you get amazing views from every direction, especially if you climb it on a great weather day like we did. The cool thing about the summit attraction was we were able to use a restroom and get a fresh lunch on the summit, something that’s not available to us on any of the other 114 peaks we’ll visit. We enjoyed a quick lunch at one of the few spots on the summit not mobbed by tourists, and then tried to find as many scenic spots as possible. Once we got all the pictures we wanted, we decided to flee the crowds and head back down the summit, where we would hopefully have a quick 4.5 mile descent to the car to end our weekend trip.

The trip down Washington was really quick and uneventful, thanks to the steadiness of the trail. We were able to get down to the hut in no time, stopping there for a few minutes to check the place out before heading down the steep parts of the ascent around the base of Monroe. Even though getting up to edge of Monroe was a slight struggle, the smooth rock on the trail made for a really quick descent, and it wasn’t very long until we were back under tree line and back at the cascading waterfalls that signaled the end of the tough part. It wasn’t until we got down past the first waterfall pool that we were able to get a feel for how hot it had actually gotten outside. Despite the fact that we’d spent a good 3 hours in the sunlight, the high elevation counteracted the heat very nicely, and made it feel very pleasant for the majority of our day. But, the last hour or so of our hike out was at a low enough elevation for us to really get a good feel for the heat of the day. But overall it wasn’t too uncomfortable, and once we could hear the river to our right, we knew it wasn’t too much further, as we continued on steadily on its banks until we got to our last turn-off. As it tends to seem when we’re hiking, it felt like we had to go a lot further to get to that turn-off than we had remembered, but that’s probably attributable to the fatigue of two peaks and over 3,500 feet of elevation gain! That signboard was a very welcome sign after a long day in the sun, and we made it quickly over the flat last mile back to the parking lot. Overall, despite the crowds on Washington, it was a very enjoyable day in the White Mountains, and an absolutely perfect weather day to summit what’s considered one of the most extreme weather climates in not only the northeast but the world! I wouldn’t recommend the climb to casual hikers since it is a lot of work, but anybody who loves hiking, and loves the challenge of high peaks climbing should make their way to New Hampshire and summit these two majestic mountains!

Views: Monroe – 10, Washington – 10 (if you can ignore all of the buildings, the views are sensational)

Difficulty: Monroe – 7, Washington – 8 (would be a 10 in bad weather conditions though)

The Wildcats (NH)

 

About a month after knocking Killington off of our list Andrew, Sarah, and I made our way out to Conway, NH for a weekend full of hiking.  Talking with Andrew in recent weeks I found out he was having some back issues, but he was pretty sure he would be ok for the weekend as he had some time to recover leading up to the weekend.  Initially my thought was we would take on Mt Adams and Mt Madison, but we made a change of plans.  Due to our desire to sleep a little longer than anticipated we opted for a smaller hike.  After mulling a few different hikes we finally decided to make our way to the Glen Ellis Falls Trailhead and trek up the Wildcats.

It was pretty late in the morning by the time we arrived at the trailhead but deterred we were not.  I grabbed what seemed like the last parking spot (which I may or may not have just created) and got the gear on.  We made our way under the road and down the trail.  It was a bit confusing at first as there was a sign for the Wildcat Ridge Trail pointing in one direction and an extremely obvious trail going the other.

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Andrew and Sarah took off down the trail to the right while I continued to ponder.  Whilst I pondered where the heck they were going I looked at the ground and noticed something.   I was still wearing my f#*@ing sneakers…I tried to yell ahead to Andrew and Sarah so I could fix my situation, and because I felt like they were going the wrong way.  Sure enough I was right about the direction we were headed in so we turned back to hit the correct trail and get my boots.

After quite the annoying start to the day I had my boots on and we were going in the right direction, and it took only a couple hundred feet or so to come to our first obstacle of the day that was not self-inflicted.  There was a nice stream crossing that we needed to navigate.  It was pretty large but overall not very challenging as there were plenty of dry exposed boulders to hop along.  From here the day was pretty simple…we went up, way up, quickly.  The Wildcat Ridge Trail does not mess around after crossing that stream we went straight up the mountain for what seemed like forever.  Along the way we came across an exposed rock outcrop which provided both a nice view and rock scramble.   After completing the little scramble we stopped to get some fluids before continuing on, couldn’t complain about the view either.

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After we caught our breath from the relentless ascent we started to make our way back up the trail.  The ascent seemed to be a little more forgiving but the rocky terrain made it difficult regardless.  We came to yet another outcrop after more ascent and from this one I had a decent view of Wildcat E which of course did not count as a 4000 footer but was still a welcome sight as I knew we were getting close.  We kept right on going until we ultimately reached E peak and from there the climb started to get easier.  We made our way down from E peak until we reached a clearing and the top of the ski lift on Wildcat D.

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Seeing this spot a couple years ago during winter I had no idea how nice the landscape looked but it was a welcome surprise for me so I stopped to snap a few pictures.  There was a little signboard off to the side of the clearing which was kind of like a grassy field with wild flowers, but nonetheless we needed to get to the summit.  It wasn’t too long before we got to a platform marking the summit of Wildcat D peak (or “The Real Wildcat” as someone put on the sign).  Once again we stopped to catch our breath and take a few pictures.

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We didn’t waste too much time on the summit since it was attracting quite the crowd (no doubt from people riding the lift).  There was still another peak ahead of us with some small subpeaks in between.  The walk to Wildcat was pretty straight forward.  The trail was very well established and Wildcat B and C were hardly notable.  Overall there wasn’t much going on until we began to descend Wildcat B and up to Wildcat A.  Once at the col between the two mountains it was a gradual ascent to the summit which was ultimately marked by a very small cairn.  There was also a sign that marked the “view” which for what it was worth was a nice bonus to the day.

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After getting a bite to eat and admiring the view (while also reaching max human capacity on the summit) we decided it was time to start making our way back.  The constant up and down of the trail for whatever reason seemed to make the day a little more taxing than I was expecting.  Regardless it only took us 40 minutes or so to make it back to Wildcat D, which at this point was fully infiltrated with ski-lift riders.  While I don’t really mind this I feel like I earned the view more than the ones who got to sit in a cable car while being elevated to the summit…but I digress.

We took one last little rest before making our way down the mountain for good.  The trip down seemed to take forever as the unforgiving rocky terrain made fast travel quite difficult.  Despite the slow go of it we managed to finally get to the base of the mountain cross the stream from earlier in the day and head out for the day.

Recommendation for Hikers:  The Wildcats packed a punch for such a short hike.  Almost instantly you begin to gain elevation rapidly with some nice rock scrambles along the way.  Be careful when travelling on the very rock terrain up to Wildcat D.  Once there expect to get some nice views of Mt Washington and the other Presidentials.  Wildcat A from Wildcat D was a much simpler task with a much more forgiving ascent to the top.  Overall expect nice views from both and a pretty quick day but I wouldn’t call this double easy.

Wildcat A:  Views – 6  Difficulty – 7

Wildcat D:  Views – 7  Difficulty – 7

Killington Peak (VT)

 

After a long winter of wishing it was spring and a long spring of wishing it was spring (are you confused yet) Andrew and I finally got to strap on our boots and conquer another mountain.  Over the winter I ended up making yet another relocation this time I packed up my things and headed back to the empire state to kind of officially start life with Sarah.  Given logistics and the crazy as hell year I have on my platter Andrew and I figured it would be best to focus on the Green Mountains this year as it would be much easier on travel to knock out the Vermont climbs.  With all that being said we decided to start on Killington.

We headed out from my parents place just after 7:00 a.m. on what we had figured to about a 2 hour drive to the Bucklin Trailhead in Mendon, VT. After a couple pit stops in Lake George and Rutland we found Wheelerville Road which is a windy dirt road directly off of Rte. 4. After weaving down the road we spotted the trailhead right next to a sharp turn on the road (if you use gps this will be pretty obvious).

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I put on my brand new boots and Andrew and I took off down the trail towards Killington.  From all things I had seen before the day we were in store for a pretty basic out and back hike.  The way things started I couldn’t have been more pleased.  The trail was about as well maintained and dry as anything I have ever hiked on and it would continue on like this for a long time.  Andrew and I briskly walked until we came to what I would describe as a partially decapitated tree where we stopped to kind of digest what we had seen so far.

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Up to that point I had a long sleeve windbreaker on mainly as a black fly barrier since those little irritants were out in full force this day, but I needed to shed the extra layer because I was beginning to overheat.  We kept on walking from that point noticing some nice bridge work done over some of the smaller streams that crossed the trail which in itself remained in fantastic condition.  We kept up this pace until I happened to notice a nice turn off leading to a waterfall so we stopped to check it out.

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I didn’t really want to stick around too long since the longer I stood still the easier it was for the black flies to consume my flesh.   We quickly packed up and headed back on the trail towards the top.  At some point around 2 miles in Andrew and I knew to expect a sharp increase in elevation.  Up to that point the hike was a very easy gentle almost completely flat walk but sure enough we hit steep section as expected.

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Andrew started feeling it in his legs, and really so did I.  A few weeks back I suffered a hamstring tear which forced me out of my workout regimen for a little while so I wasn’t as strong as I like, and Andrew was coming off of a winter which didn’t consist of too much physically.  So the fatigue was expected coming into the day.  Nonetheless I didn’t find the trail to be too overbearing and with the exception of one notable blowdown it was still in unbelievably good shape.  Before too long we came to a trail junction where we would head to the Cooper Lodge area.

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We walked what seemed like only a few hundred feet until I noticed some strange orange tape over a bunch of trees.  I couldn’t really see everything due to the fact the sun was directly behind it but Andrew noticed that it was the lodge we read about.  We didn’t bother going in at this point, but we figured we would hit it on the way back down.  We then found the Killington Spur trail sign just ahead.

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After passing the sign we noticed the trail got extremely steep.  Andrew and I briefly debated whether or not to call this a “scramble” until I eventually conceded my argument to Andrew after finding myself using some handholds.  This would have been easier had it not been for some inconsiderate hikers leaving trash along the trail which I always feel obligated to pick up.  Basically one hand had garbage in it and the other had my camera.  Probably could’ve been safer than that, but here I am typing this so no harm.  Anyway after breaking tree line I turned around to observe the surroundings and I was met with a great view of the valley below.  This was not to be overshadowed by the remarkable cell service at the top due to the massive tower gracing the summit.  Overall though we couldn’t be happier with the day as we checked off our first Vermont summit.

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In my mind the summit provided 2 different experiences.  One side of it was a beautiful serene landscape which I feel most people would pay to come see.  However the other side consisted of a broken down fire tower, radio towers, graffiti and trash.  I spent a good minute picking up the treasure which equaled approximately $.35 in recyclable returns and other miscellaneous trash before packing up and getting ready to head out.  Even though I was disappointed in some that fouled up the summit before me I was still happy with our day.

We started to head back down the Killington Spur trail which was a little more treacherous on the descent due to the amount of loose rock and gravel that was abundant.  Once we were past that however we figured it would be smooth sailing for us.  Before heading out for good we decided to take a peek inside of Cooper Lodge to see what it was all about.  Essentially what we saw was a dark cabin consisting of 4 bunks, a table with various initials scrawled into it, and the remnants of alcoholic beverages hanging from the roof.  Nothing too impressive, but for the weary Appalachian Trail hiker needed a spot for the night it probably gets the job done.

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After vacating the lodge we took off on the straight forward hike back down the mountain.  We really didn’t stop other than to momentarily relieve ourselves as the nice trail really did not necessitate it.  I started to hear the sound of the stream we had paralleled for the first couple miles getting louder so I knew we were getting back to the flatter section at that point.  Once we were back on the flats we assumed our 2 mile 40 minute victory march back to the trailhead.

Recommendation to hikers:  Killington is a great mountain for anyone whether you are an experience mountain slayer needing a more low key hike or a beginner trying to get yourself started.  Its as straight forward of a climb as any I have done, a 7.4 mile out and back that is almost impossible to make a wrong turn on.  You will be rewarded with nice view of the surrounding Green Mountains and of course great cell service…On a side note please make sure you carry out what you take in…not trying to lecture but it drives me crazy when I have to pick up after others who don’t seem to care.

Killington:  Views – 7  Difficulty – 3

Mt. Jackson

For the final day of our weekend trip to New Hampshire, we decided to take a trek up to Crawford Notch to hike Mount Jackson. I can’t speak for the other two, but I was a bit drained from the first two days of hiking, and made a big pitch for doing a shorter mileage hike for the third day. Also, the weather forecast for the day had improved dramatically from what we were initially anticipating at the beginning of our trip, so we all thought that going to a nicer summit like Jackson would be a cool idea to end out the trip. The nice part about hiking Jackson at about 2.8 miles was that we could get a little bit of a later start, so we stopped for a quick breakfast in Lincoln and got to the trailhead a little before 10 to finish the weekend off strong.

The trailhead for Jackson is probably one of the more interesting trailheads we’d been to in any of the states we’d hiked in so far. There is a decent sized welcome center for Crawford Notch right at the side of the road, and a really picturesque pond on the other side of the road. We could tell this was a pretty significant tourist spot, and it was also featured a confluence of hiking trails as the trailheads towards Pierce/Eisenhower, Tom/Field, and Jackson were all along that small strip of the highway. We got what appeared to be the last two spots on the small parking section at the welcome center, walked around for a second to see the sights, and then headed a couple hundred feet down the road to get to the trailhead that would take us to Jackson.

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Our plan for the day was to hike up and down to Jackson only, ignoring its neighbor Webster since it wasn’t on our list of mountains to climb, but we also decided on the way to take advantage of a couple of lookout opportunities on the steeper side of the notch. The first side trail only veered off within the first tenth of a mile on the trail, and it led an additional tenth or two to a spot called the Elephant Head. Even from the road, we could get a pretty clear idea of what the Elephant Head was since it stood out clearly on the side of the mountain and looked exactly like it was called. The elevation of the spot wasn’t terribly high, but it still gave a nice view of the train tracks and the visitor center where we came from, so it was worth a little detour for sure. The second lookout came after we started ascending up the cliff pretty steeply; only this one was not terribly far off the marked trail. This one was called Bugle Cliff, and offered similar views to the Elephant Head, only a bit more expansive and dramatic thanks to the higher altitude. Neither of these lookouts really took too much time out of the day and provided some pretty nice views, so I’d definitely recommend making the detours on the way up.

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Atop the Elephant Head

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The trail took a steady turn from this point, since we’d basically gotten over the cliff-side by this point, paralleling up the side of the cliff at a more gradual pace than before. The trail condition was very good in this part, with very little mud or loose rock, so we made it up to our next junction without incident. We stopped at the junction where the trail forked either straight towards Webster or east towards Jackson. We could see clouds starting to roll in from across the road, but they all seemingly evaporated by the time they got to us, so we never got any of the rain that we thought might hit us in the morning. We took a break at the junction like we usually do and took the fork towards Jackson with only a little over a mile to the summit left to go!

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As expected, the trail did start to climb a bit quicker once we turned off and we found ourselves quickly ascending for the last push to the summit. Very much like the rest of the sections before, the trail up to the summit was really well maintained and easy to climb right up until the last push, which got a bit more dramatic. I think we’re all still getting over the shock value of some of the trail-less peaks in the Adirondacks and the difficulty of the trail conditions there, because I keep thinking as I climb these peaks in the Whites about how much nicer the trails are then some of the worst I’ve seen. This kind of talk is also great filler for this blog entry because there were no really exceptional moments on the way up ‘til the summit (you can read that as I have nothing good to talk about). Right before you get to the official summit of Jackson there are a couple of steep spots that felt like hell on my legs after 3 days of hiking, but luckily it was probably less than a tenth of a mile of steep pitches before we got to the large summit area of Jackson for our fifth peak of the weekend!

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The summit of Jackson is nice and spacious and has views from all sides as it is bisected by a ridge trail going up towards the Presidentials. We settled on a spot that gave us a stunning up close view of Mount Washington and took off our packs to rest for a little bit. While the weather coming up was pretty ideal for October, it was notably blustery about tree-line, so the jackets had to go back on when we got to the top. At one point my hat even lifted off my head in one of the strongest gusts, and I thought to myself how much worse it must’ve been on the gigantic mountain we were checking out from our vantage point. I’ve seen videos and heard stories about the rough weather conditions on Mount Washington, and seeing it from just a few miles away really invigorated my interest in summiting it, which we’re going to try to do next summer on a warm, calm day! Nonetheless, Jackson was definitely a nice summit experience, with a lot to see and ample room to accommodate all of the weekend crowds that flock there.

After the winds started getting intense, we decided to get going off the top of the mountain, and ducked under tree line quickly to start our final descent of the trip. Five peaks and some very dramatic views later, our trip was just about over, but we did still have a good 3 miles of descending to go. We took our time on the way down since it was a fairly quick day hike, and enjoyed what would be our last hike of the year. Coming down was about as uneventful as going up was, and once we got to the road we only had a short walk over to where the cars were. At the parking area we took another second or two to look around, since it was a fairly interesting trailhead area with various touristy buildings and dramatic views of the mountains on any side of the Crawford Notch. Climbing Jackson was a nice way to cap off the trip, since it’s a fairly short day hike with a pretty nice payout up top with some dynamic views in every direction. Overall, it was a pretty successful day to cap off a big hiking season for us!

 

Recommendations: This is definitely a great day-trip for just about anybody enthusiastic about climbing. It’s a quick day, with some great views, and just a few challenging spots to make you feel like you earned it as you get to the top. The fantastic up-close views of Washington make it worth the trip alone.

Ratings: Views – 8, Difficulty – 2

Mt Hancock & South Hancock

One day after Andrew and I returned to the White Mountains in New Hampshire we decided to take on the Hancock Loop off the hairpin turn on the Kancamagus Highway.  Sarah had made her way up here late the previous night to join us on the rest of our trip.  We woke up at around 6:30 in effort to be on the road by 7.  Andrew was curious about Tripoli Road and insisted that we take it to 93 North.  I knew it would eventually get there, but knowing the road is closed during winter I wasn’t too sure what to expect.  Turns out there a good reason for the road being closed in winter as the majority of it is unpaved and sketchy as all hell.  It seems to be a common theme for us trying to navigate some sort of potential disaster every single time we go hiking, but at this point its just part of the fun for us.  Anyway after a few miles of slower travel we got by the road and made it to I 93 where we would continue into Lincoln for our breakfast.

We stopped at Flapjacks in Lincoln for a big breakfast.  I always remembered this place from when my parents would take me as a child.  It was pretty much the same as I remembered with some kick ass pancakes and toy trains moving in the rafters.  After loading ourselves with starch and carbs we headed off to the hairpin turn on the Kancamagus where we would come to our trailhead.  The trailhead parking just seemed to be filling up as we got there.  Fortunately we were able to find ourselves a spot before the lot got full.  From there we threw on the gear and got ready to start our hike.

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The weather seemed like it may or may not hold off for us that day but I’m not overly accustomed to caring too much about some minor weather.  Nonetheless the three of us took off down the trail towards the Hancock’s.  We would follow the Hancock Notch Trail for a little over a mile before reaching a trail junction that would head toward the loop.  The hike up to that point was about as easy as it could get with the trail being very flat and very well maintained with pretty much no notable obstacles to speak of.

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Before long we came to a sign for the Hancock Loop Trail which we would ultimately follow to both of our peaks for the day.  At this point we knew that the climb would start to gain elevation pretty quickly so we decided we would get a little fuel into our systems before making our way up to the summits.  Eventually we reached the actual loop portion of the trail where we had to make a choice of either hiking the South Peak first or Hancock.

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We figured we would take the trek up to the South Peak first that we would be able to accomplish in .5 miles.  The trek up to South Hancock was about as steep as it gets for hiking standards.  We found ourselves sucking wind and pausing frequently on the way, not to mention I was hacking up a lung from the cold I had the previous week.  Before too long though we made it to the summit of South Hancock.  The summit area had a nice outlook where we did manage to get a nice view, but other than a height of land the was no real feature there marking the summit.

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We spent sometime on the summit getting a bite to eat and socializing with some other hikers.  While on the summit we noticed some Gray Jays were lurking around us.  Rumor had it that these little guys were pretty bold little birds and are known to eat right out of your hand.  Knowing this I had to give it a go and see if one of them would take the bait.  Sure enough after holding out some granola long enough one of those little guys perched itself on my finger and took a beak full before taking off to enjoy their little snack.  As amusing as this all was we knew we needed to get going to our second peak of the day Mt. Hancock.

We got going down the trail which looked to be a 1.4 mile ridge hike we no real exposure but fortunately the drop in elevation was not going to be too over bearing.  It was a pretty straight forward walk with some slightly muddier sections along the way but I wasn’t too long before we started approaching our second summit of the day.  We noticed the trees thinning out a bit but never any bald portions until we ultimately reached a sign which signaled that we were at the summit.  Much like the last summit there wasn’t really any obvious area to observe the surroundings other than a small outlook just off the summit.  Once again we took time to get a bite to eat and feed some Gray Jays.

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After taking about a half hour to rest we figured it was about time to head back down the mountain.  According to the trail junction it was going to be .7 miles down point where the Loop Trail split.  The trail going down to the split was very steep and treacherous.  The trail gave me flashbacks of the Macomb slide with a lot of loose rocks and gravel on a very steep gradient.  We took it slow on the way down to ensure we didn’t injure ourselves at least until we reached the loop.

We gathered ourselves once reaching the loop before making our way out as quickly as we could.  The trail going out was just as easy as it was coming in although when you have no more summit to look forward to it always seems like its longer.  We eventually got back to the road and once there we were all in shock about what we were witnessing.  Let me start by saying that I love hiking at this time of year but there volume of cars out there blew me away.  Why people come in droves to watch leaves die I guess I’ll never understand.  Anyway we knew we had one day of hiking to go so we headed back to get some food and rest.

Recommendation to Hikers:  The Hancock’s are a fun day with nothing too challenging getting in your way.  While the views aren’t outstanding you do get an opportunity to get a few nice pictures out on the trails without hiking too many miles.

Views:  South Hancock – 4   Hancock – 5

Difficulty:  South Hancock – 4  Hancock – 4

Liberty & Flume

After a bit of time off from climbing, Chris and I set off for New Hampshire on a Friday morning in October to start a long weekend of climbing. After finishing up the Adirondack High Peaks in the summer, we thought it would be a cool idea to try to dive a little deeper into the New Hampshire High Peaks list by trying to grab 5 or 6 of them in one trip. I drove into Boston the night before like I had a few times before so we could get an early jump to the morning hike. We left a little bit before 7 AM with our eyes set on climbing Liberty and Flume in the Franconia range of the White Mountains. These were climbs Chris had his eye on, and I thought they would be a good place to start the trip, given its relatively short mileage (10-11 miles round trip, depending on the route) and reportedly excellent summit views. I was pretty pumped to get away for a few days and hopefully double my peak count in New Hampshire in one quick trip, so there was a little extra motivation to get back out on the trails and see some new peaks!

We got into Lincoln, New Hampshire bright and early and stopped for a second to grab some food for the trails before heading north to try to find our trailhead. From what I could see from the map, it looked like we were basically going to start our climb from the Flume Gorge Visitor Center, so that’s where we decided to pull in to park. We grabbed our packs and Chris started filming as I decided to take in the surroundings a little bit. I didn’t see anything in the parking lot that indicated a trailhead towards where we would be going, with the exception of a bike path heading in the right direction. After a while of walking, I decided it would be best to try going up the road a little ways as there might be an obvious parking area down the road. My intuition was right, and we noticed the real parking area signed just down the road from where we parked, and we decided to drive down there instead. We got going a little bit after 10 AM, walking the Whitehouse trail from the parking area for about a mile until we reached the Appalachian Trail, where we started our true ascent.

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We started the steady ascent up towards Liberty and Flume, witnessing some unique carved graffiti on trees as we started off. In all my time climbing I can’t recall seeing trees defaced the way we did on that particular trail, and it was kind of disappointing to see. Nonetheless, we continued on after making a point of this on the vlog, and quickly reached the fork in the loop trail. Going straight would take us up steadily towards Liberty, while the right fork would level out and head towards the Flume ledges where we would have a quick and dramatic ascent up to the summit of Flume. Even though it was going to add some mileage to the day, I decided it would be best to take the steady approach up to Liberty and then walk over to Flume and back instead of going up the steep slopes because I wasn’t sure if I was in the greatest shape for that after not climbing for a month and a half. After taking a quick break at the junction we worked our way up the Liberty Springs Trail, crossed over a few small streams, and started our ascent in earnest.

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The real ascent begins

 

I quickly figured out that my hypothesis about my hiking form was right on the money. I felt like my legs were pretty dead after about half an hour of steady, unrelenting climbing up towards the Liberty Springs Campsite. I was glad we took the steady approach because I would’ve been struggling badly trying to work my way up the Flume ledges. While I would’ve preferred a bit more of a staggered approach up to the summit, the Liberty Springs Trail was at least consistent and easy on the feet, with very little mud or loose rock in the trail. Overall, from our experiences in Maine and New Hampshire, it is very enjoyable to hike along the Appalachian Trail segments because they are usually well-designed and steady in approach. It may have taken me a bit longer than I would’ve liked, but we did eventually reach the summit ridge, where we took a quick right turn and headed about a quarter mile down the trail until we reached Mount Liberty.

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The dramatic approach to Mt Liberty

 

Liberty was really quite a fantastic summit area, and its dramatic features were evident just before we reached the top. The summit itself is on a very steep ledge that features a large slide that basically starts from the edge of the trail. It’s a harrowing look down from the slide at the base of the summit rock, as it probably drops down a hundred feet or so. Once we topped the summit rock, the views were outstanding all 360 degrees around. We could see the whole Cannon, Kinsman area on one view and then the Lincoln, Twins, and Owls Head view on the other side. Liberty is a very rewarding summit, and combined with the foliage and nice autumn weather, it was one of our best summit experiences of the year 2017 so far for sure.

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Mt Flume from Liberty

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By the time we had worked our way off Liberty and headed towards flume my legs had started to feel a little more adjusted, so I made some quick work down towards the col between the two peaks. I waited there for Chris to catch up, and we made our way quickly up to Flume. From Liberty, Flume is not really a challenging hike at all, and we ended up on the summit a lot quicker than we had anticipated. From the Flume summit we still managed to get the same spectacular views towards the west, and could even get a nice reference point of Lafayette that we couldn’t get from Liberty. What was even more interesting was the clear view you get of the Flume ledges and just how steep the trail ends up climbing up to the summit from the Flume Trail. Flume really looks like one hell of an adventure to get up, and a bit of a dangerous proposition to try to get down. Once we stopped to get some pictures and a snack, we decided to double back over Liberty on our way out, since that trail looked liked an accident waiting to happen.

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We took another second to take in the sights on top of Liberty the second time, and then continued on our way down. The hike down was fairly uneventful, but it was fairly easy thanks to the large sections of smooth stone steps on the Liberty Springs Trail. Seriously, I can’t recommend this trail enough, it’s really easy on the joints, offers a nice hiking challenge that doesn’t take too long, and offers wonderful views up top. Once we got down past the loop junction, it was just a quick walk back, first down to the bike path that doubled as the Whitehouse trail for a section, then on to the rest of the trail that lead us back to the parking area. All-in-all the day hike only took about 7 hours, and it was definitely a fantastic way to start off a full weekend of hiking!

Views: Liberty 10, Flume 7

Difficulty: Liberty 6, Flume 6 (from Liberty; climbing the ledges would make it more difficult)