Friday, January 27, 2012

Mt Field, Mt Tom & Mt Avalon Winter Hike: New Hampshire 4,000-Footers

Bagging more 4,000-footers in the winter!
View of Mt Washington from Mt Avalon across Crawford Notch
There will never be a weekend in New Hampshire where there are no hardy souls out hiking. Rain, snow storms, bitter cold... its all part of the fun. I love going to New Hampshire because I'm not considered weird or crazy for wanting to go hiking in a snow storm! Today's adventure was Mt Tom (4,052ft) and the Mt Field (4,331ft) of the Willey Range south of the Presidentials. Heavy snows at the higher elevations offered a nice taste of winter- its been pretty sparse in most parts of New England!
View Mt Field and Mt Tom Trail in a larger map

The trailhead begins at the Crawford Depot which is where the Appalachian Trail Club runs a lodge. There's a large parking lot which can occasionally fill up even in the winter. However during the winter you don't have to pay for parking. From here the A-Z Trail Head is just behind the old Depot Building and across the train tracks. This trail head has access to three four thousand footers and also Mt Avalon. I was only able to do Tom and Field but if you'd like to do Mt Wiley as well, it is a 10 mile hike. Just doing Mt Tom is a 5.8 mile hike and doing Mt Tom and Field is a 7.2 mile hike.

Even in a winter snowstorm, the trail was well marked by groups of snowshoers. It is relatively steep and easily traversed in snowshoes or micro spikes but it would be slippery in boots alone.
Winter is Finally here!
The 2.2 mile hike to the saddle between Mt Tom and Mt Field is steep but very enjoyable. It parallels a creek and offers some fleeting views to the North. About halfway up is the turnoff to Mt Avalon. You could possibly head up Avalon and then continue to Mt Field from here.

The trail tops out on the saddle and if you head to the right, Mt Tom is only 0.6 miles away. To the left is Mt Field which is about 0.9 miles away. The trails up both mountains are not as steep.

Neither mountain has great views but the little known Mt Avalon has an incredible panorama of the Presidential Range and Crawford Notch! In fact, I would say that the view from Mt Avalon is better than most of the 4,000 footers that I have climbed! Its really only a spur of the larger Mt Field but if you would rather just hike for a view than a tall point, then this is your ticket. No wonder it makes the New Hampshire 52 with a View List! This list is composed of shorter mountains with shorter hikes for those who would like to get outside without having to hike 17 miles.
The Summit of Mt Field
A frigid day on the Presidentials
The View from the Summit of Mt Avalon
This is another great place for bagging 4,000 footers in the winter! The mountains are close to the trail head so it would be easy to escape if a storm starts coming in. Parking is also not an issue. Enjoy!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Stuff!

I just wanted to make a quick note of some changes! 

The Map of Adventures was a little cluttered and I've always wanted to better organize it. So I've created a "Adventures by State" page which has all of what's written on this blog divided up by area. If you click on each of the headers, it will take you to the area map and you can more easily get directions to the locations. Its much less cluttered than the large map but I'll keep the "Map of Adventures" tab up anyways. 

I also wrote a little blurb about me on the pages tab.  Last of all, I gave the header a little face-lift, mainly removed the hokey papyrus font. 

Hope you enjoy the changes and I wouldn't mind some feedback!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mt Osceola & East Osceola Winter Hike via Greeley Ponds Trail

A clear and frigid winter day hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
Mt Osceola Winter Hike
I've been back in the Northeast for three whole days and just couldn't resist an MLK hike! Yesterday a good friend from school and I were able to hike the Osceola Mountains on a very cold winter day. This was my first Northeast winter climb and it just happened to be an uncommonly clear day. Mt Osceola is 4,340ft and makes both the New England 4,000-Footers list and the New England 50 finest list with a prominence of 2,040ft. The slightly shorter East Osceola, at 4,156, is prominent enough to be included on the 4,000 footer lists. Its a great hike during most times of the year and was a great way for me to get my feet wet (and cold!) with Northeast winter hiking.
Mt Osceola viewed from near East Osceola
Hike Description and Trip Report

Have I ever mentioned how amazing it is to live an hour away from one of the greatest mountain ranges in North America? I simply can't get over it! Even a cold winter morning couldn't keep me from getting excited about winter hiking. We drove up from Portland area and got to the trailhead just before 8AM. The temperature was -10F in the morning! That's cold, even for New Hampshire. The trailhead is located just below the Kangamangus Highway which happens to be the highest highway in the Northeast. 

I was slightly worried that this might be too cold for my fingers and toes; I have poor circulation in my digits and this has caused me to turn back even when the rest of me is warm. Never the less, I was well layered and prepared for the cold. I was actually hot and sweating at times! No winter hike would be complete without the constant stops for layering up and down as the conditions change...
Well-cut trail

The first 1.3 miles are relatively flat until you get to the turnoff for the Greeley Ponds. The trail then heads south up a considerably steep sections to East Osceola. There are plenty of great lookouts as you get higher which will make the steepness worth the trouble. After an hour and a half of hiking and taking pictures, we came to the little saddle on the south side of East Osceola. This is another excellent point for pictures of the White Mountains and Mt Osceola. From here, the east peak is just another small climb. The summit is marked with an icy cairn but isn't much of a view.

From East Osceola, Mt Osceola is a 1.2 mile round trip with a steep descent to the col and a steeper ascent to the true summit. There is one section just beyond the saddle that is short but very steep. I would recommend crampons for this particular section- its icy and long enough that a slip could result in injury. 
The chimney on Mt Osceola
We were able to shimmy up the chimney in snowshoes but we used crampons on the way back down. After this its just a short climb to the summit! There's a fire tower and clearing which provides a good view of Waterville Valley and a few other 4,000-footers. Just a couple hundred yards South of this is the true summit which has a great view of the Pemigewasset (the Pemi). Winds were much calmer that what was forecast so it was a nice place for lunch and some photos.
The Pemi
East Osceola Mountain from Mt Osceola
Looking North towards the Hancocks and Presidentials
Down climbing the steep trail was best done in crampons. There was enough ice on the trail that I wouldn't have wanted to do it in snowshoes. We quickly descended back to the Greeley Ponds trail turnoff and decided to go the extra 0.3 miles. The ponds were completely frozen over but it was a nice little detour. Cross country skiers can enjoy this moderate trail as well. 
Overall it was a wonderful hike and I'd recommend it for a first time winter hike for anyone who wants to start exploring the Whites in the off-season. They are less crowded and still as gorgeous in the winter!

Trail conditions- As of MLK 2012, the trail was hard-packed, icy in some points and well marked. For the hike up snowshoes sufficed. I imagine you could get up the trail in micro-spikes alone but it would be sketchy in some sections. There are a few very steep sections which would warrant bringing crampons- we were glad we did! There were folks who didn't bring anything other than micro-spikes who managed to get up and down but I would not recommend it.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hiking Bryce Canyon in the Winter: Navajo Loop

One of Utah's best kept secrets; Bryce Canyon in the Winter
Bryce Canyon in the Winter
After reviewing my pictures from my recent adventures in Nevada, I was reminded of the brilliant colors of Bryce Canyon and how its augmented by winter snow. I visited Bryce Canyon when I was on a grand Utah road trip where I hit every national park in the state. After having visited this park in the spring, I thought it might be less enjoyable. However I was pleasantly surprised by the winter and enjoyed a popular national park all by myself. Turns out that some of the most renowned photography of Bryce Canyon are those taken in the winter. The famous Navajo Loop, normally a mile long hike, become an excellent snowshoeing trail too.

Despite Bryce Canyon's fame, it is located in a rugged and alpine part of Utah. If you are driving, I'd recommend checking road conditions and incoming weather- the park is at 8,000ft which can get snowed in all the way into May. Also, whenever traveling through Utah, make sure you bring an extra tank of gas! Bryce Canyon itself is near several stations but many routes to it are through areas without any. 
"Wall Street" at sunrise
I'd recommend getting to Bryce Canyon before sunrise. The amphitheater faces east which is why sunrise is generally considered the best time for photography.  Here is a hiking map from the NPS website. The aptly named "Sunrise Point" and "Bryce Point" are where most sunrise pictures are taken. "Paria View" also has some good opportunities. 

The Navajo Loop Trail is one of the most frequently hiked trails of the park and I believe this is well-deserved. Its one of the only trails that penetrates the deep canyons created by the hoodoos and fins. Its also about a mile in length although it is very steep. If you wish to hike further, it is also the jump-off point for many of the wilderness trails of the park.
Bryce Canyon in the Winter
Given the trail's steepness, I would highly recommend bringing some snowshoes and trekking poles. The trail also has a significant amount of switchbacks; it would be easy to lose your footing as you're climbing in and out of canyons. Fortunately it is well marked and there are usually enough tracks in the winter to make it straightforward. But don't be afraid to go off trail! On a pair of snowshoes, you can really move through the amphitheater and search for that perfect shot.

As you can see from the hiking map, there are many options for hiking below the rim. Most of these trails will be difficult to follow in the winter; only a few signs exist and the trails are not marked. The best options for further hiking are the trails which circle the rim. The main trail goes from Bryce Point to Fairyland Point and provides excellent views of the infamous amphitheater and other hoodoos of the park.
Bryce Amphitheater
The southern portion of the park is even less frequently traveled and holds some further treasures. At Rainbow Point you can wander through one of the few ancient Bristlecone Pine Groves of the country. Yovimpa Point also provides views of the expansive Colorado Plateau and the Grand Staircase.

Bryce Canyon is too often thought of as a summer destination. However the winter offers more solitude and unique photography opportunities. The same could be said about most of Utah's other national parks. I certainly prefer this park in the off-season.
Bryce Point Overlook
Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fire Wave, Valley of Fire, Nevada: Directions and Guide

Everything you need to know about getting to the elusive Fire Wave near Las Vegas, Nevada. A destination for hikers, photographers and desert-lovers.
Fire Wave, Nevada
The famous Fire Wave of Nevada has intrigued and tormented me for quite some time. Its image appears on the covers of Nevada Tourism brochures and dozens of photography websites. While pictures of the Fire Wave are everywhere, there is almost no information about how to get to it. I had tried before but was unsuccessful. This time, with some helpful directions from the rangers at Valley of Fire State Park, I was able to make it.

The Fire Wave has only recently been made more accessible by the rangers. In the past they have given only vague directions to its location which has been purposeful; they would rather not see people getting lost in the desert trying to look for one particular rock. However they provide more clear directions to the wave these days to keep the human impact minimum. There exists a faint route marked only by two signs.

Once again I'm able to break new ground on outdoor internet guides! This should hopefully help you to visit the famous and elusive Fire Wave of Nevada.

Before disclosing information about the wave's location, I would like to mention that this is a site that has been kept in hiding for a long time. It used to be quite the adventure to find it but in an effort to reduce impact, there is one trail for hikers. I'm a little conflicted about revealing its location because I would hope that it would remain a clean and unrestricted hike. I trust that you will be respectful of this location's uniqueness and make sure to leave no trace.
Nevada's Fire Wave
The Fire Wave at Sunset
Fire Wave Hike

The Fire Wave is located in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada which is 50 miles from Las Vegas. It is a popular and easily accessible park with a 10 dollar charge. There is a visitor center which can help familiarize you with the park's sights and roads.

The hike to the Fire Wave is neither far nor difficult. Its about a mile roundtrip hike with a light amount of elevation gain/loss. There is a small route which is usually marked by footprints but can become ambiguous as you approach the Wave. It is smaller and somewhat indiscernible until you are literally on top of it so you might be doing a little bit of searching before you find it. Fortunately there are a few landmarks that make the place slightly easier to find.
Fire Wave Hiking Map, Valley of Fire, Nevada

Here is a little map to help you out. The road is the Mouse's Tank Road which heads North from the Visitors Center. It is roughly 4.3 miles from the Visitors Center to a turnout where you can access the wave. This is the third turnout on the road and there is a simple sign which just says "wave".

The total hike is about 1 mile round trip and takes about a half an hour. You know you have gone too far if you hit the wash south of the Fire Wave. Here are a couple of pictures which should make it more clear.
Hike South along the road until you see this sign
The footpath can be somewhat ambiguous at times.
Eventually you will hit a large section of smooth, sloped rocks. This will take you to the wave. You can see it just barely in the center of the picture.
This is it from a different angle. It can be very easy to miss.
GPS Coordinates for the Fire Wave

     N  36  28'  58.0"
     W 114  31'  20.6"

Photography Notes for the Fire Wave
Photography of the Fire Wave is perhaps the main reason why so many people want to hike to it. A full spectrum of desert colors can be seen from this location which allows for some brilliant shots. I'm not an expert on photography; mostly I just get lucky with my lil' point and shoot. However, I'll just provide some notes on what First of all, the Fire Wave is smaller than most pictures make it out to be. The whole thing is less than 40 ft long and it dips into a bowl shaped area. It runs in a North-South direction and most of the pictures of it are facing south to highlight its colorful striations.
Different times of the day offer diverse opportunities for photography. We first visited the wave in the mid-morning which was not ideal but make for some interesting shots. The midday winter sun illuminated the striated rocks below the wave. I also wished I was there in the early morning to photograph the east-facing side of the wave. 
Just below the Fire Wave
On the hike out... not sure why, but I liked this one.
Sunset photography of the Fire Wave was slightly more difficult than anticipated- perhaps due to the low setting winter sun. Sometime 1-2 hours before sunset probably would have been perfect. There's a bowl just in front of the wave which is where most of the best pictures are a taken. Hopefully the first couple of pictures will show you what to expect. If I had any real background in photography, a D-SLR and photoshop, I'm sure I could spruce up these photos more. At any rate, it was fun to play with perspective.
Fire Wave at sunset, looking towards the bowl
Hopefully this will give you good directions on you adventure to the Fire Wave! I am surprised that this place is as open and accessible as it is. It bears such striking resemblance to The Wave of Arizona which is one of the most strictly regulated hikes in the country. I would not bet on this place being unrestricted for long. The rangers told me that this is quickly becoming a destination for buses and Southwestern tour companies. I would highly advise you to minimize your impact on the land and hike as little as you can in the surrounding areas. Leave no trace practices are capital in a place such as this. Enjoy the wave, take many pictures and leave it beautiful for the next hikers. 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!