Thursday, May 31, 2012

American Serengeti: Yellowstone's Special Role in Fish and Wildlife Preservation

“This is my submission for the Trout Unlimited, Simms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest.”
Yellowstone River in the winter
Yellowstone National Park has become as much a part of American History as the Revolutionary War, Civil Rights and putting a man on the Moon. It has become one of our most enduring ideas; to preserve and conserve areas of natural beauty for future generations. Perhaps it was not known at the time how critical Yellowstone and other National Parks would become in the future of preservation. With 88.5 million acres of land and water currently preserved under the NPS, it is clear that Yellowstone has had a profound and lasting effect on environmentalism. 

"National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." ~Wallace Stegner
Clear and flowing rivers
As a traveler and outdoorsman, my first visit to Yellowstone seemed much like a religious pilgrimage. I've visited, photographed and written about 31 National Parks and 60 other NPS units, from Acadia to Zion. Coming to Yellowstone was special because this is where it all started.

Visiting the park in late April meant that winter was still in season. This was not a hindrance however, the geysers, rivers, canyons and lakes all had a serene quality to them when blanketed in snow.
As soon as I entered the park, I hit a traffic jam... of bison. There were so many bison that I had to drive carefully and slowly to avoid a collision. This wasn't the slightest nuisance, in fact, it was delightful. I saw more cars than bison that day! 

One of the park rangers I spoke to called Yellowstone an "American Serengeti" which is an often used phrase to describe the massive abundance and diversity of wildlife in the park. This was instantly proving itself to be a true expression!

Despite the bison and winter condition, the park remained very accessible. I was able to hike around Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin as well as the several other geyser basins of Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was simply majestic and I was never far from the abundant wildlife of the park.
Unique color, unique formations, unique wildlife
A Balance of Human Enjoyment and Conservationism

Part of what makes Yellowstone so special is that the park administration, local businesses, nearby communities and conservationists all maintain a very unique balance between allowing people to enjoy the park and preserving it for future generations. This is a very rare and, I imagine, difficult harmony to keep. After all, 3.3 million people come to visit this park in a year! Everyone from the carefree day-hiking family to the intense week-long wilderness backpackers wants to walk through the park. From fathers who teach their children to fish to commercial fly fishing trips, Yellowstone accommodates!

Overall, I found Yellowstone to be accessible, relatively cheap and I could easily obtain permits for fishing and backpacking. Not only that, but the price of admission and the price for permits seemed fair and reasonable. I felt like I was supporting the efforts of the park administration to sustainable manage this vast wilderness.
So I just roamed! I took off over the many boardwalks through the geyser basins. I hiked through the vast woods and wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. I saw the majestic alpine lakes and clear flowing streams. I watched the great herds of bison and elk and saw traces of grizzly bears who have long disappeared from lower latitudes. I was as free and unhindered as the fish wildlife which also inhabit this special place.

This is what makes Yellowstone and other National Parks such a vital part of our heritage. They give us freedom to pursue all levels and facets of the outdoors while making sure that these areas stay as rugged and beautiful as they were before they were parks. Part of the preservation aspect is controlling and removing invasive plant and animal species. This is partly the responsibility of hard-working ecologists but also the responsibility of the visitor.

Hikers, fishers, backpackers and boaters all need to be educated on the several methods of "Leave No Trace" to avoid introducing or spreading invasive species. So while many anglers are happy to fish out the nonnative Rainbow Trout, anglers must also observe catch and release for native fish as well as practicing "Leave No Trace" fishing ethics. While many boaters are eager to hit the water, it takes special cleaning and inspection of the boat to make sure it is not carrying non-native species into a delicate ecosystem. Even boots can spread non-native flora!
Even geysers and other natural features can be permanently ruined without "Leave no Trace" ethics
As I was wandering across the park, I found myself very grateful to the multiple generations of visitors and staff who have preserved this place for me and my generation. Whether it be through blogging and photography, or teaching others how to reduce their impact while enjoying the outdoors, I hope that this place is as beautiful for future generations as it was the day I first entered Yellowstone. After all, what is a better representation of freedom and equality other than a National Park?

"There is nothing so American as our national parks.... The fundamental idea behind the that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us." -President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Kayak Circumnavigation of Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada

Grand Manan Island is a kayaker’s paradise and still somewhat of a frontier for multi-day kayaking trips. I took three days to circumnavigate the island and it was a very intense but incredible trip.
Kayaking the beautiful, crystal-clear waters of Grand Manan Island
I really don’t know how I got the idea to circumnavigate Grand Manan Island but it was probably happened during finals week and was the product of too much coffee, late night studying and wasting time on Wikipedia. At any rate, I couldn’t find very much information on a trip of this size on the island. There’s many day trips and even a company that runs some trips, but I couldn’t find anything specific on circumnavigating the island. Thus, I had to make do with navigational charts, previous knowledge and of course, the ever-reliable wisdom of locals who’ve lived on the island for generations. Eventually, I was able to draw up a plan.

Seven Days Work Cliffs on the Northern End of the Island
Day 1: Pettit Cove to Dark Harbour

After taking the ferry over from Blacks Harbour, NB, I unloaded my kayak and all my gear onto Pettit Cove which is in North Head. It is a picturesque location which even has a view of the famous lighthouse! From here I set forth….

I encountered almost no currents around Swallowtail Light and when I rounded the point, I had a beautiful view of the Seven Days Work Cliffs (great name). Eel Brook Beach is nearby and I landed and hiked! The trail took me to Eel Brook Falls and eventually to a lookout over the cliffs. I would later return to this cove for a smaller trip!
Rounding the Northernmost point on the island and heading South along the massive sea cliffs
Back in the kayak, I rounded the Nothernmost point on the island and was hit with waves, current and wind. This was to be expected and I would be facing this for most of the trip. It was slightly treacherous, rounding the North Head; the currents are very rapid and hazardous- they created several whirlpools which made the kayaking interesting. I was glad I had a long, rudder-ed kayak.

Continuing south along the cliffs, I eventually ended up in Dark Harbour which is the one harbor on the west side of the island. Dark Harbor isn’t really even a harbor but more of a lake next to the ocean with a small but rapid stream connecting the two. There are perhaps four dozen local “camps” where they come for the weekends. I was able to find a suitable campside upon an old dock that had washed up. There really wasn’t a suitable campsite outside of that…
Driftwood Campfire in Dark Harbour
Day 2: Dark Harbour to Seal Cove

Yesterday I went to sleep with the fog rolling in and it stayed all night. This island is commonly foggy so this was also to be expected. I set forth from Dark Harbour and headed South.

This is the Bay of Fundy which is known for one thing- huge tides. The whole bay empties and fills twice a day with an incredible amount of water. Kayaking in this can be very difficult. No matter how well I planned, there was always going to be a part of the day when I was paddling against the current. Combined with the wind and waves, the second day of kayaking was very intense. Fortunately the sea cliffs and unique formations kept my mind off the currents.
The rugged western side of the island
Ever so slowly, I made my way south down the west coast. I had to hug the coastline in case things got so dicey that I needed to bail. In a real pinch, I could turn around and head back to Dark Harbour. But I was making progress and eventually made it to Bedford cove which is the narrowest part of the island. This was another take-out point if the waters were simply too rough.

Before me was the South Head of the island and what would be the most difficult kayaking of the trip. Like the North Head, many currents come to a point which makes for a strange interaction. The wind picked up heavily too which made the currents choppy and large. Again, there were a few beaches I could land on in an emergency which was comforting. Rounding the point was a difficult affair nonetheless. It required constant focus, small heading changes with the rudder, and having to be aware of everything around me. A larger wave could easily flip a kayak! 
South Head of the Island, where I hit the worst currents and waves. This picture was taken two days after I rounded the southernmost point.
Finally I rounded the southern lighthouse and made my way North. The currents were still huge but they were in my favor for once! I rode these currents all the way to the small fishing community of Seal Cove. I set up camp on a perfect sandy beach and set to work on a campfire.

As you could imagine, everything was soaked by the time I made it to Seal Cove. I was glad I wore a wetsuit and neoprene gloves… would have been very cold without them! I build a roaring fire and slowly warmed up and dried out. Some kind high-school students were having a giant bonfire down the way and they just gave me a couple of pallets to burn! The more time I spent with the locals of Grand Manan, the more convinced I was that these were some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
The small fishing community of Seal Cove
Day 3: Seal Cove back to Pettit Cove

More fog.

Hoping that the fog would burn off eventually, I headed in to town and grabbed a cup of coffee. I struck up a conversation with a couple of fishers to see their take on the weather. They responded, with something to the effect of “Oh yeah, the wind’s hitting Southwest Head at the right speed and direction… fog will be gone by the afternoon”. It turned out to be a completely accurate statement, not surprisingly.

However the fog would be there all morning so I headed off anyways. Once again, I’m having to watch my compass and map intensely to avoid getting lost. On this side of the island I knew I could probably just land and hitchhike back to my car but I was doing fine.
Foggy Kayaking
The fog would be there all morning so I headed off anyways. Once again, I’m having to watch my compass and map intensely to avoid getting lost. On this side of the island I knew I could probably just land and hitchhike back to my car but I was doing fine.

I landed in Grand Harbour right around lunch time and enjoyed watching the fishing ships. The harbours have such a funny design because they have to compensate for very large and rapidly changing tides.
Heading into one of the tide-dependent channels

The fog was clearing ever so slowly and I headed off from Grand Harbour bound for Pettit Cove. This is where the kayaking got interesting. There are three islands off of this harbor with very narrow and shallow channels that are completely dry at low tide. I had to hit one of these channels at high tide or face a grueling and exposed trip around White Head Island and back to the other side. It was a tricky crossing. I had to kayak very slowly though one of these channels to avoid hitting the rocky, shallow bottom. The tide was still rising, fortunately and I was able to make it through unscathed.

From here, it was a relatively simple trip hugging some of the smaller island on the eastern side and eventually crossing Long Island Harbour. It was a busier part of the island so I had to watch closely for the ferry and fishing ships that were constantly coming in and going out.
Successful Circumnavigation of Grand Manan Island by Kayak!
Weary and sore, I weakly paddled/drifted back into Petitt Cove. The trip was finished and I had circumnavigated a new island! Of course, there was no celebration or jubilee other than me devouring my remaining provisions. But the adventure was not over! I had the rest of the day and two more after to go on more adventures! I quickly packed up and drove off to another adventure on Grand Manan Island.

Next up... mountain biking and hiking the South end of Grand Manan!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Adventure Travel in Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada

The Pursuit of Life has gone international! I’ve spent 5 days on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick, Canada which has included a circumnavigation of the island as well as some mountain biking, hiking and good old-fashioned tourism. Grand Manan Island was grand like the Grand Canyon is grand!
Cliffs of Grand Manan Island
Two years ago, I journeyed to the easternmost point in America, West Quoddy Head, Maine, and watched the sunrise. I saw a curious sight- a cliffy island due East! Later I found out it was actually Grand Manan Island and was part of New Brunswick. Sometime between then and now, I got the idea to head out to that island to see what’s good. When the stars aligned for me to get 5 days off of work and school, I took the opportunity.
Biking Grand Manan Island
Grand Manan Island lies 9 miles East of Maine in the World-famous Bay of Fundy. It is the southernmost territory of New Brunswick and is a somewhat hidden tourist destination for eastern Canadians and a few Mainers. What draws people to Grand Manan? Pleasant island cottages, beaches, the highest tides in the World, friendly locals and a unique coastal environment are just a few reasons. Adventure Travel (the focus of all my trips) has also begun to take root on this seemingly inaccessible island.
I designed my trip to accomplish a few goals and leave ample time for side trips and quirky doins’. My main goals were- 1. Circumnavigate the island by kayak, 2. Bike along the coastal routes, 3. Hike a few trails. I knew that even under terrible conditions, the circumnavigation would take 3 days so there would still be time for other adventures!
Quaint fishing towns and classic Bay of Fundy tides
In the end, I got way more than I bargained for! Not only did I have a successful circumnavigation, I was also able to bike half of the island, hike countless trails and I even spent a bunch of time with the extremely kind and friendly locals! I had time to make a second kayak trip and make a trip to White Head Island nearby. All in all, it was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. I would go so far to say that if I had to chose between a trip to the Caribbean or going back to Grand Manan Island, I would chose the latter.

The next several posts will be about the several exciting adventures I had on this magical island. Enjoy!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Absence of Light Photography

Light means everything in photography. Photographers get up at ungodly hours of the morning to get the "golden hour" pictures and take so many pictures of sunset that they probably have never actually seen one without a camera lens. However I'm starting to learn that the absence of light can be just as beautiful as a classic golden hour photo. 
Catalina Cave
This one has always been a favorite of mine. I took this in Laguna Beach, California in a small ocean cave with a curiously shaped opening. The mountain in the distance is Mt Orizaba on Catalina Island and the frame of the windows is shaped vaguely like the figure-8 shape of the island. “Catalina Cave”
I took this picture during a nearly full moon on Catalina Island off the coast of California. I used to work at a Boy Scout Camp- Camp Emerald Bay which was on the rugged and glorious West End of the island. The waterfront had incredible sunrises and sometimes an incredible moonrise. During this particular shot, I set a camera up on a tower and set an extremely long exposure. The idea was to get a reflection of a Boy Scout with the Scout Salute and reflection. I didn't know it would turn out at the time but its become one of my favorite pictures ever since then.
Same picture... different theme.
Spelunking is a very difficult sport to photograph. Caves are dark, damp and misty- all things that are not conducive to photography. Using a flash will usually just highlight the mist and create too much of a flare. Of course, half of the time, you don’t even really know what’s beyond the thin ray of light created by your headlight.

I took this one while in the dark depths of the aptly named “Catacombs Cave” in Northern California. It is a lava tube that plunges 7,000ft before coming to an abrupt end. Without sounding too self-serving, I liked this photo because it captures a lot of what caving is; even with a powerful headlamp, it only eliminates a fraction of the void. Much of it remains unseen and unknown. I think the picture preserves much of what caving is all about.
Lightening photography is really nothing more than luck and patience and more luck. Obviously there are things you can control such as shutter speed, ISO and having a really sexy D-SLR camera but I do like the portability and ruggedness of a waterproof digital camera. This one was shot on Catalina Island overlooking Doctor’s Cove during a very rare summer thunderstorm. The environment of California rarely produces thunderstorms.

Minimalism? Perhaps...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hiking Mt Abraham and Ellen: Southern Vermont Road Trip

Last stop on a 4 day tour of Southern Vermont. Although technically in the middle part of the state, these mountains were close enough to Rutland. The last day of hiking along the Long Trail also had the most views.
Hiking Mt Ellen and Mt Abraham
After hiking Mt Killington, I decided to head further North and see two other epic 4,000-footers. The last hike on an epic trip! It was a bittersweet morning. Tomorrow I'd be heading back for another semester of grad school with all the good things and stressful things that come with it. I really had to enjoy this last day of stress-free existence. The destination was Mt Ellen and Mt Abraham which are both 4,000 footers in Vermont. Beyond this, the trail and the summits are supposed to have great views of the state. That's all I needed to know!

The shortest approach of Mt Abraham involves the Long Trail as it passes over the Lincoln Gap. This notch in the mountains stands at 2,428ft and the Lincoln Gap Road is one of the steepest roads in Vermont. Its also not paved in some sections. Unfortunately it was closed; it usually doesn't open until the end of May.

So I had to hike from the Battell Trail which is longer and steeper than the Lincoln Gap/Long Trail approach. The book indicates that hiking Mt Abraham and Mt Ellen from the Battell Trail is 11.8 miles with 2,500 ft of elevation gain.
Summit of Mt Abraham, Vermont
The drive up was fantastic. Classic Vermont towns, windy country roads, lots of farms... half of the time, I enjoy driving to the trailhead as much as I enjoy the hike. As I approached the Battell Trail Trailhead I even saw a painter who had a canvass, easel and palette! He was painting the picturesque summit of Mt Abraham. I smiled at the thought of hiking somewhere that was gorgeous enough to paint!

The Battell Trail makes a steep ascent of the western side of Mt Abraham. In about 2 miles, I was at the intersection of the Battell Trail and the Long Trail. From here it was 0.9 miles to the summit of Abraham.

This summit is known as one of the best views in the Green Mountains. Unlike many other summits I've been on in the Greens, this had a full 360-degree panorama. It wasn't obscured by trees or ski trails. Just a view of everything in central Vermont. I just sat for a while taking it all in! 
Summit views
Continuing North on the Long Trail, I had several summits in between Mt Abraham and Mt Ellen. These are no more than a couple of insignificant elevated points, but it does make the trip between the two summits quite a roller coaster. I enjoyed it though because the trail hovers around 3700ft with little "windows" through the trees to view the valleys created by the Green Mountains. There are several ski areas which have been cut into the mountains but these also offer some panoramic views as you make your way to Mt Ellen. Overall, I found this trail to be my favorite of the last four days of hiking.

Eventually I actually made it to the summit of Mt Ellen... without even realizing it! There were no discernible summit markers nor signs! I popped out on the other side of the summit where there's a ski area and realized that I had no higher place to go. It was nice because I could see well up to Camels Hump and Mt Mansfield in the North. The actual summit of Mt Ellen left much to be desired- I promptly turned around and headed back to Mt Abraham. The trail TO Mt Ellen was greater than the summit itself.
View from North of the summit of Mt Ellen
Once I made it back to Abraham, I did the same thing I did earlier; sat around and took pictures. The incoming storm reminded me of my upcoming courses for the summer- ha! If I stayed any longer, I was bound to get rained on so I regretfully made my way down to the car.

What a wonderful trip this has been. I had climbed some 7 summits and visited a whole host of other quirky sights in Vermont. I gained some new appreciation for another state and discovered a lot about the culture and history of it. Furthermore, it fueled my desire to return to Vermont over the course of my graduate studies as a place of rejuvenation. This is not to say that I don't have places like this in Maine, but there was a different feel and flavor to Vermont... not better or worse... just different. At any rate, it was a nice 4-day vacation from the books.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hiking Mt Killington: Southern Vermont Road Trip

More hikes and sights in Southern Vermont.
More Vermont beauty on the way to Mt Killington
There's just so much wonder in this small state! Vermont is the 5th smallest state and the 2nd least populous but ranks towards the top in natural beauty! To me, there's abundant natural beauty in every state and I could never determine which has the most. However I'm thoroughly convinced that Vermont should be a destination for nature lovers, tree huggers and dirty hikers like me. 

Yesterday I was at the site where the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail were born. Today I was further north on an equally historical mountain- Killington. Today's destination was Mt Killington summit which is the second highest peak in Vermont and one of five 4,000-footers in the state. 

Before hiking the mountain, I headed into Rutland which is one of the few centers of commerce in the state. I hit up Cafe Terra for coffee and furiously wrote as much as I could for the blog. Its located in downtown Rutland which was a great place to wander around for the morning. Rutland had more Vermont flavor than Manchester but wasn't quite as busy as Burlington.
Hurricane Irene damaged some trails as well
Getting to the trail head to Mt Killington was a bit of an adventure. Last summer, Hurricane Irene rolled through parts of New England and caused significant damage in Vermont. I never realized how hard this part of Vermont was hit. There were entire towns that were literally isolated because the roads were so badly damaged. Of course, there's also significant amount of damage on the trails.

The Bucklin Trail is a popular route up Mt Killington and is accessed via the Wheelerville Road. This is a dirt/gravel road that is normally accessible by almost any car. However there is a bridge that is out making the Bucklin Trail head only accessible by driving Route 4 east from Rutland and heading south on Wheelerville Road.

Eventually I was on the trail and boy, its just as bad as some of the roads! There are downed trees all over the place making the going somewhat slow. Pay attention to the blue marks that are painted on trees to follow the trail. For the most part, it follows Brewer's Brook and then charges directly up the mountain for the last 1/4 of the trail.
The trail makes a *very* steep ascent towards the summit
I finally came to the intersection of the Long Trail and the sign said "0.2 miles to the summit". Great! Almost there.... oh no! The last 0.2 miles are positively the steepest "trail" I've ever been on in the Northeast. This wasn't normal Appalachian steepness... it was a full on, hands and feet climb. Beware!

Of course the view from the top was worth it! You can see all the way to the Adirondacks of New York, the Berkshires of Massachusetts and even some of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. You could also see all the way to Mt Abraham and Mt Stratton in Vermont. One of the best views in the state!
View from the summit of Mt Killington
After spending almost 45 minutes on the summit, I came down the same route for a total distance 7.2 miles. I spent some more time just hanging out in Rutland and doing some research for my last day in Vermont. Tomorrow, I would be heading to climb Mt Abraham and Mt Ellen!

Day 4: Mt Abraham and Mt Ellen

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hiking Mt Stratton and Mt Equinox: Southern Vermont Road Trip

Continuing to climb mountains and visit small towns through rural Southern Vermont. 
The Long Trail up Mt Stratton
Day 2 of my Southern Vermont road trip held just as much history and hiking as the first. Today I took a pleasant morning drive through the Green Mountains and arrived at the trail head for Stratton Mountain. This mountain holds a very important part in the history of both the Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail. While the latter is the more well known of the two, the Long Trail was the first long-distance trail constructed in the United States. The designer, James P. Taylor, got the idea for such a trail while on Stratton Mountain and Benton MacKaye latter got the idea to construct the Appalachian Trail.

I've been hiking so much on the Long Trail lately that I'm going to actually backpack the whole thing one of these days...

Beaver Dam, Mt Stratton Trail
The trail begins just past the asphalt of the Kelly Stand Road in Stratton, Vermont. Its a somewhat rough but well-maintained trail. Within the first mile, I saw a gigantic beaver pond! It was a steep ascent but this is just common for the Long Trail. The total distance was about 3.4 miles from the parking lot to the summit.

The summit itself actually does not offer great views beyond the fire tower. You can climb to the top of this lookout and have a 360-degree view of Southern Vermont. I could see Mt Ascutney to the Northeast, Mt Equinox to the Northwest, Mt Dorset to the Northwest and all the way to Mt Killington in the North. The view was great but I knew that I would have a better one on Mt Killington.
Looking to the South on the summit of Mt Stratton
After I got back to the trailhead, I wandered across several mountain roads and passes until I ended up in the town of Manchester, Vermont. This town starkly contrasted the mountain towns I'd seen earlier. Boutique stores, designer outlets, private schools... it just didn't fit in for the trip I was on. I could imagine coming back here for a pleasant weekend retreat, but it was certainly not like the rough and spirited towns I'd visited earlier.

There is, however, a great hiking area just outside of town. It was nearly sunset when I reached the park, but I wanted to hike Mt Equinox which is a very steep mountain in the extreme southeastern part of Vermont. It was very difficult to find out online information about hiking to the summit of Mt Equinox, but I found the Equinox Preserve and Trust website which has maps of the maintains trails. At the trailhead there were also free maps.
Dusk on Mt Equinox summit
It was about a 3.1 mile hike to the summit of Mt Equinox and there was a 0.4 mile trail to Lookout Rock. Neither the summit nor the lookout were great views by Vermont standards. You could see all of the valley and parts of New York from the summit but most of it was obscured by trees and the decaying remains of a summit hotel. There's also a road leading to the summit. The summit left much to be desired.

Oh well, its all part of the game of hiking New England's 50 Finest! Tomorrow I would be heading to Mt Killington which is considered one of the best summits in the state.

Day 3: Mt Killington and Rutland, Vermont

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Southern Vermont Road Trip: Quechee Gorge and Ascutney State Park

Southern Vermont is full of adventure! I took a 5 day road trip throughout the area and experienced some wonderful hikes, historic landmarks and culture in this unique part of the country. This is just what I saw on day one!
Quechee Gorge, Vermont
Just about a year ago I set off on a grand road trip across the country. Driving from California to Maine, I was able to see some 20 National Parks and countless other destinations of natural beauty. Now that I'm in grad school, I don't quite have those opportunities anymore, but the semester ended giving me 5 full days off! Even my work schedule aligned for this near-full week off to go play. I had to go somewhere glorious!

This road trip's destination was Southern Vermont. Last fall, I was able to tour through Vermont's Northeast Kingdom and two summers ago I toured through Central Vermont and Stowe. Southern Vermont is geographically and culturally different from the rest of the state and there were plenty of adventures to be had. My primary reason for traveling is always for the mountains but several other historical and cultural destinations are always mixed in. I find this is the best way to travel; have one or two places to see in a day and leave ample time for quirky side trips.
The Pogue, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park, Vermont
Hiking through rural Woodstock, Vermont
I stayed the night in Lebanon, New Hampshire and promptly hit the road the next morning. The first place to see was Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park which happens to be the only National Park in Vermont. Located in Woodstock, this is a small but gorgeous park with 30 miles of hiking trail. Interestingly enough, it was one of the first sustainably managed forests in the United States. 

Woodstock is a classic, rural community in the mountains of Vermont. There were so many parks in the area that I imagine its a very healthy community as well. I decided to hike to the Pogue, a picturesque pond located not too far from the town center. In classic Joe fashion, I also had to hike to the high point of the park which was simply an elevated part of the forest. Nevertheless, the hiking trails and old carriage roads through the park were serene and offered a great break from the hustle of grad school. I wish there were as many trails near me as there are in Woodstock.
Quechee Gorge from the Bridge, Vermont
Its funny how much you can gain by getting directions from tourist maps. I was using the official map of Vermont Tourism and it highlights some pretty amazing sites. Travelers have a tenancy to ignore these maps for fear of falling into a tourist trap. However its been my experience that they highlight some really incredible natural places as well. Case in point was the Quechee Gorge, pictured above. With a 160ft drop from the bridge as well as a hike to the bottom, I'm glad I was paying attention to the map!

From here I headed south into Windsor which is considered the birthplace of Vermont. It was a charming little town located on the Connecticut River. I crossed the covered bridge that connects New Hampshire and Vermont and visited the famous Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site which is the historic residence of a famous American sculptor. Unfortunately the museum was closed at the time but I did wander around the gardens and outdoor statues. The architecture and grounds were so beautiful... I wish I could live here!
Mt Ascutney
Mt Ascutney State Park is right across the river from here and I had to climb it! Its a very prominent monadnock and I believe its the tallest point on the Connecticut River. Surely there would be a great view at the top!

I wasn't disappointed! There's 3 or 4 trails which ascend the mountain and I took the Windsor Trail. Its a steep trail but it wanders by some small brooks and even has a few viewpoints along the way. The top has a fire tower which is publicly accessible with a 360-degree view of the Green Mountains. It was hard to leave such a summit! However... the Harpoon Brewery was not more than 15 minutes from the parking lot and I couldn't miss out on it. I even came when there was a live band!

That was 4 amazing places within about a 50 mile radius. I didn't even feel like I saw everything that was available. Couldn't wait to hit the road the next day! 

Day 2: Historical Mt Stratton and Mt Equinox

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rock Climbing Jockey Cap, Fryeburg Maine

Perfect climbing destination in Western Maine! An alternative to the crowded routes on Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledge
Western Wall of Jockey Cap, Maine
When I first moved to Maine I thought that there were two or three outdoor rock climbing destinations and that was it. The big names in Northeastern climbing- Whitehorse Ledge, Cathedral Ledge, Cannon Cliff, Lake Willoughby and a handful of other destinations are known well outside of New England and can become very crowded in the summer. 

As it turns out, there are hundreds of walls all across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. There's volumes of literature out there about routes of all lengths and difficulties. One of these lesser known destinations is Jockey Cap in Fryeburg Maine just West of the New Hampshire Border. A few friends and I decided to climb here in leu of Cathedral Ledge.
Options for top-roping and lead climbing on Jockey Cap, Maine
Without even realizing it, I've passed by Jockey Cap perhaps a hundred times on the way to other climbs in the White Mountains. Its located right off of Route 302 near the Jockey Cap Country Store and Motel. There's a 0.2 mile long trail to its base and there's an easy hiking trail to the top. (Map

When we first arrived, I was expecting a tiny rock not even worth bouldering. I was surprised! Its a very large wall supporting many routes of varying difficulties. The South Face supports several bolted climbing routes ranging from 5.11 to 5.12b. The overhand on the eastern side of the South Face looks quite difficult. The West Wall, on the other hand, was much more conducive to our abilities with some 5.6s and 5.8s. 
The South Face, Jockey Cap, Maine. Couple of routes here rated 5.11-5.12b
Some less ferocious routes up the South Face of Jockey Cap
About halfway up on the Western Wall. Mostly 5.6-5.8 climbing
NEClimbs has some basic information about the various routes up Jockey Cap.

This was the first climb of the summer season for us so we wanted to brush up on our anchor-building skills and just get back into the swing of things. The trail skirts around to the top of Jockey Cap and there are bolts everywhere. We were able to do set up two top ropes. The first was towards the North end of the West Wall with a very doable 5.6. 

The Standard Route up Jockey Cap involves that crack and can be top roped or led. The bottom 20 feet is more difficult and you might be struggling to find good protection. None of us were very strong lead climbers so we stuck to top roping. There are 3 perfect bolts at the top and even some areas for extra protection if you're neurotic about it. 
 Top Roping the Standard Route up Jockey Cap
Overall impression... this was a great location to get in a couple of new climbs and it is not very far from Portland, Maine. There's plenty of options for both top roping and lead climbing. Its a good, solid chunk of rock which supports a fair amount of climbs and bouldering. This was my first time on this rock so I don't really know if it sees many people in the summer, but we were out on a perfect 70-degree day and saw only one other group. I'd imagine it could get boring after a while but for us it was a close and easy destination. So if you get to Cathedral and Whitehorse and its overrun, head back across the border and enjoy some solitude on Jockey Cap.
You even get a nice view at the top. What else could you ask for?
So there you go! One more wall you can add to the extensive list of climbing destinations in Maine.

More Top Rope Climbing in North Conway

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Grand Canyon of... 36 Other Grand Canyons in America

There's more than one "Grand Canyon"! Here's some grand canyons that are spread across the country.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
 There's a lot of canyons out there! Unfortunately the Grand Canyon will be the only one that people will ever travel grand distances just to see. But other canyons that stunningly gorgeous are often called "The Grand Canyon of __________". I've visited a bunch of these and have more to go, but here's 15 other Grand Canyons that might be worth your while to visit.

View Grand Canyons in a larger map

This is a map of what I've compiled so far. For all I know, the catch phrase "Grand Canyon of..." could have hundreds of examples. However there really are an amazing number of canyons out there and many are in places you wouldn't expect! Grand Canyon of Mississippi? Grand Canyon of Kansas? Sure! While these destinations might not compare to some of their deeper counterparts, they are still worthy of the term in relation to the surrounding geography. At the least, these destinations could add a little zest into your cross country road trip.  Here's some of the more notable "Grand Canyons" of America.
#1 Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wyoming

This is one of the only canyons on this list that’s legitimately been referred to as a Grand Canyon since it became known to the outside world. Other than Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is probably the most visited part of Yellowstone National Park. The two 300 foot falls in the 700 foot-deep canyon make for stunning photography and are easily accessed in a half a mile hike. If you want to beat the crowds, go in the winter!

#2 Hells Canyon, Idaho/Oregon "The Grand Canyon of the Northwest"

Hells Canyon is truly one of the most magnificent canyons on Earth. Its actually deeper than the Grand Canyon of Arizona. At 8,000ft deep, it’s the deepest on the continent. Situated on the Idaho/Oregon border, it’s an extremely remote destination and overlooks are not as common as they are elsewhere. The Snake River which winds its way through this canyon is rafted occasionally, but it’s an extremely technical and wild adventure

#3 Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado

I’ve mentioned this place some 3 or 4 times elsewhere on the blog, but I can’t stress enough how awesome this place is. The Gunnison River carves through this canyon at an astounding rate. The walls are 2,000ft high and only a quarter of a mile apart. It is a relatively newly designated national park and a great place for short hikes! 
The land of the canyons
#4 Canyonlands, Utah

Zion National Park is undoubtedly the canyon king of Utah but Canyonlands National Park is every bit as incredible and has no crowds. The Island in the Sky is the great lookout point of the park where you can see the might Green and Colorado Rivers converge. Its also the site of the famous Mesa Arch which frames a perfect Southwestern scene.

#4 Pine Creek Gorge, Pennsylvania “The Grand Canyon of the East”

There’s several competing places for the title of “Grand Canyon of the East” and this place belongs on the list! The Pine Creek has carved this eastern beauty in North-Central Pennsylvania and is a 800ft gorge.
Kings Canyon, California
#5 Kings Canyon, California

Kings Canyon National Park is all too often overshadowed by Yosemite Valley but is every bit as magnificent. The actual Kings Canyon is over 8,000ft deep. Unlike the Grand Canyon, Kings Canyon was cut by ancient glaciers and is therefore comparatively narrow. There’s only narrow road through the area but hundreds of hiking and backpacking trails.

#6 Rio Grande Gorge, New Mexico "Grand Canyon of the Rio Grand"

New Mexico has more canyons than anyone could ever count, but its most famous one is the Rio Grand Gorge where one of the highest bridges in America is located. Gorge Bridge crosses 650ft above the river and has views of the 800ft deep canyon.

#7 Palo Duro Canyon, "Grand Canyon of Texas"

Situated on the Texas Panhandle in a land that is otherwise flat, the Palo Duro Canyon starkly contrasts the surrounding scenery. Its almost 1,000ft deep in some sections and is the site of the “Lighthouse” rock which has become a symbol of northern Texas. Palo Duro Canyon State Park protects this special place.
Waimea Canyon State Park, Hawaii
#8 Waimea Canyon, Hawaii "Grand Canyon of the Pacific"

Mark Twain was the first to call this "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific" and the name has stuck since then. Located on Kauai Island of the Hawaiian Islands, this is one of the wettest places on Earth. This 3,000ft deep canyon is protected by Waimea Canyon State Park.

#9 Breaks Interstate Park, Virginia/Kentucky "Grand Canyon of the South"

Another destination which is also referred to as "The Grand Canyon of the South", this is the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi River. It is over 1,000 feet deep in some sections. This place is protected by Breaks Interstate Park.

#10 Gulf Hagas, Maine "The Grand Canyon of Maine" 

Maine never ceases to amaze me and this is another place that's made my bucket-list. Gulf Hagas is an impressive 400ft gorge located in an extremely wild part of Maine nearby the famous "100 Mile Wilderness". Difficult to get to but surely worth the effort. Gulf Hagas in a National Natural Landmark.

On the map above, you'll find 30 other Grand Canyons which I've either visited or heard about by word-of-mouth. Have you come across a unique location that should be considered a Grand Canyon? Let me know!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!