Monday, December 30, 2013

Winter Hike of North Moat Mountain, New Hampshire

North Moat Mountain is an excellent winter hike with plenty of alpine views despite its relatively low altitude. Located just outside of North Conway.
View of the Kancamagus Highway from the summit of North Moat Mountain
Winter is finally here in New England and the trails are perfect for some great cold-weather hiking. I think this is the best season to hike in the White Mountains because the views are just as beautiful and the trails are nearly empty. Today's adventure was a hike of North Moat Mountains which North Conway classic and the namesake of Moat Mountain Brewery. The summit dominates most pictures of North Conway. Although only a modest 3,196ft in elevation, it's bare summit and some of its approaches are surprisingly alpine given its low altitude.

The trailhead for North Moat Mountain is the same as the trailhead to Diana's Bath which is a popular hiking destination in all seasons. I'm under the impression that the parking lot could fill up easily during some of the busier winter weekends. It most certainly does in the summer. 

Here's the map-

View North Moat Mountain Hiking Map in a larger map

There are a few options for hiking North Moat Mountain. Most people elected to do an out-and-back type of hike using the North Moat Mountain Trail. This is a direct ascent of the mountain but unfortunately it misses a lot of the views you could see on the Red Ridge Trail. If you chose to hike the out and back route (this would be the upper segment on the above map), it is 8.4 miles total. This trail was marked pretty well, even in the winter. 

The other option which we found to be more adventurous was the Red Ridge-North Moat Mountain Trail Loop which is shown above on the map. This ends up being 10 miles exactly. Route finding was more difficult on the Red Ridge trail however. I've been told that even in the summer, the trail can be quite ambiguous in some sections. However the views from the almost bare ridgeline were phenomenal and well worth the occasional delays of looking for those blazes.
Red Ridge Trail, looking towards Middle Moat Mountain
The trail is quite flat at first as it meanders along towards Diana's Bath. Here there is a nice little cascade of waterfalls and small pools which I'm sure are perfect for cooling off in the summer. We decided against taking a dip in the pools in late December. After about a distance of 1.1 miles, it comes to a sign marking the Red Ridge Trail. It appeared that this trail was infrequently traveled at the time although perhaps more people hike it later in the winter season.

Taking a left and crossing the stream on to Red Ridge Trail, the route gains and looses little elevation as it circles behind White Horse Ledge. The turn-off to White Horse is 0.8 mile further. There is an option of hiking to the top of White Horse and a sign marks the route. It gently descends again until coming to an unplowed access road which is 0.7 miles from the White Horse Turnoff. 
Summit of North Moat Mountain visible from Red Ridge Trail
The seemingly benign first 2.6 miles are followed but a brutal 2.1 mile ascent which gains almost exactly 2,000ft. It was steep even by White Mountain standards and even my microspikes had trouble in some sections. About halfway up the ascent, the ridge become bare and you're thankful you endured the hike. North Conway and Mt Washington Valley are completely exposed and I felt like stopping every 20 feet for pictures. The clouds looked curiously like a thunderstorm, even in the winter.

While it is tempting to simply follow the ridgeline up, keep a good eye out for small cairns and trail markers- it is very ambiguous and the trail enters into the pines again before the turn-off. This was difficult to find in the winter.
Mt Chocorua from the ledges
Despite the cold winter temperatures and wind, I was sweating profusely by the time we hit the ridgeline. Winter hikes are always a tedious dance of layering up, layering down and trying to find the impossible combination of clothing. 

Turning to the left (South), will take yo uto Middle Moat Mountain which is also great. We skipped this and headed up North Moat. It is about 1.1 miles to the summit from here. The trail actually dips down a few hundred feet before ascending the final 600ft to the summit. This was tricky as the steep trail was very icy in some sections. Microspikes served us well on the scramble to the summit.

North Moat Mountain stands at an interesting point in the White Mountains where you can see everything on the Kancamagus and everything around North Conway at the same time. It was a unique view and I don't think there's any other mountain with such an opportunity. The cameras were on overtime.
The Kancamagus Highway
North Conway Valley
Coming down wasn't too difficult at all. Some powder and open trails made for a speedy descent. From the summit down to the Attitash Trail turnoff was 1.9 miles with a 2,000 foot descent. The trail then parallels Lucy Brook for another 2.3 miles until coming back to the Diana's Bath Trailhead. 

What a perfect way to kick off the 2013-2014 winter hiking season! Looking forward to more hikes in the Whites.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hiking Mt Cardigan, New Hampshire

Mt Cardigan is another treasure in the Lake Sunapee Region which is a short hike but leads to a bald summit with great views. 
An accidental "selfie" on the summit of Mt Cardigan, New Hampshire
The fall was quite busy for me and although I got out a few times, I didn't have much time for blogging. Although this is a few months overdue, it is worth mentioning that people tend to climb Mt Cardigan all year long. Winter ascents are not uncommon although it is very windy at the top! 

Mt Cardigan is a relatively popular hike but with a half dozen trails in the area, it is not unreasonable to think that you could experience a little solitude out there. I hiked it from the West, starting at Mt Cardigan State Park parking lot. This is one of the more popular ways to hike the summit but another excellent option is from the East at the AMC Cardigan Lodge. Here's an area map for directions. The links above provide hiking directions.

View Mt Cardigan Area Map in a larger map

Cardigan Mountain State Park is probably the easiest access and ascent of Mt Cardigan but I've been told the AMC Cardigan Lodge hike is just as good. From the parking lot at the end of the road in the State Park, the hike is a straightforward, 3.0 mile total trip. It ascends at a consistent pace until popping out on the bare granite summit which is extensive and great for exploring.

The other option, from the AMC Hut, is a 5.6 mile total trip which includes a loop option. Winter ascents are regularly done and trail conditions are updated frequently. The nearby Firescrew Mountain is also another easily reached summit with views. However, Cardigan is one of the best in the State-
Fall colors on the summit of Mt Cardigan
The fire tower at the summit
A lovely trail through the woods
Along with Mt Kearsarge, Mt Sunapee, Ragged Mountain and Mt Smarts/Mt Cube, the Sunapee Region of New Hampshire is ever-abundant with hiking opportunities. For those of us who have spent too much time in the Whites or those looking for something a little closer to Boston, these mountains and trails are perfectly suitable. 

...and there's no "off season" for these hikes. They are great in any season!

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Hiking Mt Kearsarge (Lake Sunnapee Region), New Hampshire

A short, steep but pleasant hike suitable for anyone
Expansive views from the summit
Mt Kearsarge is a relatively shorter summit compared to the rest of what is in New Hampshire however its steep rise compared to what is in the rest of the area makes for a great hike. (Note: there is another Mt Kearsarge of the North Conway area which is also a short, steep hike with a firetower and great views. This particular Kearsarge is in the Lake Sunnapee Region of New Hampshire.

Given its ease of hiking and multiple trail heads, its one of those hikes that is great any time of year. I happened to hike it during one of those fall days where the mountain was exploding with color but its a great winter hike too
Even the drive up was pretty
Hiking Map 

Usually I'll try and do a GoogleMaps hiking map for every hike I do but the map linked above is perfect. There are three options for hiking this mountain. The first is from the North via Winslow State Park. (Sidenote: the gate closes in the winter which adds another two miles or so to the hike). The parking lot itself is actually a great view too- if you're not feeling up for the hike up the mountain, there's a great place to sit and enjoy a picnic. 

The best way to hike from Winslow State Park is to take the Winslow Trail up and the Barlow Trail down. The way up is steep and doesn't have much views but gets to the summit in approximately 1.1 miles. The Barlow Trail is 1.7 miles down and can be done as a loop with the Winslow. The Barlow Trail is far more scenic and I enjoyed moseying down and stopping frequently.
I love the layers of color that come with increasing elevation
Views down the Barlow Trail
The other option is the trail from the South via Rollins State Park. Again, this park closes in the winter which adds substantial mileage to the hike should you want to hike from the south. Regardless, the Rollins Trail is a nice 1/2 mile trek up the mountain and also offers some views here and there. 

The Lincoln Trail is the final option which is really a scramble up a sort-of-maintained trail. I don't want to knock it, but if you're looking for a more pleasant hike, any of the other options work perfectly.
Gorgeous Views!
As for the summit? Well its just perfect! There is a firetower at the top which is occasionally staffed and open to the general public. Its enclosed too which means if there's wind, you can take a nice break and enjoy lunch without worrying about freezing. The fire warden was also quite helpful in pointing out local landmarks. 

The bare granite slabs of the summit also have ample opportunities for a good old summit nap or just sitting and enjoying nature. Not bad for a 2.8 mile hike, right?

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Winter Weekend in the Wisconsin Dells

Most people don't think about going to the Wisconsin Dells in November but for us it was a serene and relaxing weekend spent away from the city. This outdoorsman even found some great hikes in the area!
Classic view of the Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
I've had some epic birthday celebrations. As an outdoorsy guy, I always try and kick off a new year with something adventurous. A November outdoorsy birthday celebration isn't exactly an easy thing to pull off but in the past I've climbed Mt Whitney, hiked the Grand Canyon, the Great Basin and the White Mountains in New Hampshire. This year I did something completely different and headed out to the Midwest for a splendid weekend spent in a rather posh condo rental in the Wisconsin Dells. I was chuckling to myself thinking that this was the first birthday in a long time where I wasn't on some mountain facing the elements.

I frequently travel to Chicago and the Midwest to see my longtime girlfriend so the trip wasn't entirely random but it certainly contrasts with my batch of birthday celebrations. The Wisconsin Dells, located about 60 miles north of Madison are as much of a vacation household name in Chicago as Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard are in New England. Its a big spring break destination for many college students in Chicagoland and Wisconsin. In the summer, its known as the Waterpark Capital of the World and is a destination for young families. As far as what it is known for in November... well I'm not sure. Even our mutual Midwestern friends were a little confused as to why we would want to travel to the Dells in November. 
View from our condo on Lake Delton, Wisconsin
As it turns out, I actually had one of my best birthdays. Wisconsin Dells in November was almost entirely empty but in a serene way. While I haven't ever been in the peak season, we found the whole trip to be a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of our lives. November rentals were as inexpensive as they came and we were able to enjoy what would normally be a very pricey condo on the cheap. It almost felt like our own little cabin in the woods and there was nobody to bother us as we enjoyed our weekend.

Even frigid November temperatures couldn't keep me from going on a few hikes and checking out the sights in the area. I was pleasantly surprised at all that was available for the more adventurous types.
Its almost like Wisconsin's own Grand Canyon
Nature walk just outside of town
The first day was spent doing some of the more well known activities of the Dells. We hit up the Tanger Outlets, downtown Wisconsin Dells and the Riverwalk. The Wisconsin River cut steep gorges and narrow canyons through this area which contrasts with the often-held view that the Midwest is as flat as a pancake. We hiked around some of the trails in the upper Dells including the famous Witches Gulch. The Dells of the Wisconsin River State Natural Area also had some short nature walks that were even better with a light dusting of snow. I've done Hibachi around my birthday the last three years and wasn't about to break that tradition; dinner was at Nauroto Hibachi which was a great time. 

What a great first day! We saw a lot of the area and even got some hikes in. For a place known more for waterslides and spring breakers, there was a healthy amount of outdoor adventures to be had. I hope I can bring my kayak back here someday!
The rugged Baraboo Range contrasts the often-held view that the Midwest is entirely flat
Hiking around Devil's Lake, Wisconsin
The second day we turned south and saw the Baraboo Range and Devil's Lake. As a climber, I'm familiar with Devil's Lake and its notoriety as a national climbing destination. Although we didn't do any climbing in November, it was refreshing to know that there was top-notch outdoor climbing options just 3 hours out of Chicago. We took an extremely cold walk around the lake when the windchill was somewhere in the range of 10 below zero. I am sure my ever-so-patient girlfriend was utterly delighted to be hiking in these frigid conditions while I rattled off useless factoids about the glaciation and geological history of Devil's Lake and the Driftless Area. My family says I am the future Clark Griswold from the movie Vacation...

We then drove all around the Baraboo Range and caught some classic 50-mile views from some of the higher altitudes. The range scarcely breaks 1,500ft of elevation but it rises straight from the plains which makes for dramatic sights. Again, this was all great news for an outdoorsman like me. Although we didn't hike there, Natural Bridge State Park is supposed to be another good visit in the area. 
Wisconsin Lake
On our final day, we cruised all around the Driftless area as we meandered our way back to Chicago. The Driftless Area is an extensive region of southwestern Wisconsin which is marked by having steep hills and narrow canyons which people often do not associate with the Midwest. Hiking and paddling opportunities abound including the 92-mile flat water paddle along the lower Wisconsin River which I will surely do someday. For those less inclined to the outdoors, the area is also where most of Wisconsin's infamous dairy and cheese comes from. 

The highlight of the day was,  no doubt, Blue Mounds State Park. Rising head and shoulders above all other hills and monadnocks in this part of the state, Blue Mounds has one of the best views in the entire Midwest. Two easily accessible fire towers allowed us to see for some 70 miles in every direction. It was almost like standing at the top of a Chicago skyscraper.
Blue Mounds State Park, Wisconsin
View from one of the fire towers in Blue Mounds State Park
It had been a lovely trip. All the hiking and running around probably even balanced out all the calories we ate at a few restaurants in town. Devil's Lake was my favorite sight from the whole trip with the Blue Mounds being a close second. I can't wait to come back some day with a kayak!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!