Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mt Breadloaf, Mt Wilson and Mt Roosevelt Hike via Clark Brook and Long Trail, Vermont

A classic hike of a beautiful section of the Long Trail which includes some of Vermont's highest mountains and the Breadloaf Wilderness. Includes an ascent of 2 of New England's 100 Highest Mountains as well as a great view from Mt Roosevelt.
The Breadloaf Wilderness of Green Mountains National Forest is one of the finest wildernesses in New England
I've been on a Vermont Route 100 road trip for about half a week and it has been so wonderful. At various points in the last 3 years, I've pretty much covered every inch of Route 100 at one point or another and I've enjoyed every minute of it. This highway winds across the central portion of the state and visits nearly every highlight of the mountains. On this particular day, I was out for a hike near Hancock, Vermont. I had tried to get to the trailhead on the western side of the mountain (FR 59 aka Steam Mill Rd) but it was closed, probably due to Irene? Anyways there are several routes to the summits and another option is the Clark Brook Trail. Numerous other options exist for hiking these summits.

Here's my map-

The trail head itself was actually easy to miss and I drove halfway up the mountain looking for it! The turnoff for it is right in Granville and is marked. You drive up the mountain, passing by a couple side roads before the road crosses Clark Brook and the trail head is just on the other side. Several informal campsites are in the area. Also, the only real place to park is just before the bridge that crosses Clark Brook. 

The trail generally follows Clark Brook most of the way up until the Long Trail. It is a gentle ascent starting out until it meets the Breadloaf Wilderness Boundary where it begins a somewhat steep ascent up to the intersection with the Long Trail. From the trailhead to the LT is about 3.0 miles. It meanders through a lovely wilderness.
Trail though the Green Mountains National Forest
Once reaching the crest of the Green Mountains and the Long Trail, there are a few optional hikes. Many people chose to bag Mt Wilson and Breadloaf, which are on the New England 100 Highest List. Besides that, the trail along these mountains is a great way to experience the alpine environments of Vermont. 

Turing left at the LT and heading South will bring you to the summit of Mt Wilson in 0.8 miles. The intersection of Clark Brook Trail and the LT is at 3,230ish feet and the summit of Mt Wilson is about 3,780' so there's still quite a bit of elevation to be gained. Just south of the summit are the ledges where there are fine views of the entire wilderness. Unfortunately, this is the only real view you get on the hike, unless you chose to bag the nearby Mt Roosevelt. 
View from Mt Wilson's ledges
After the ledges, the trail runs over the otherwise unnoticeable summit of Wilson before dropping down to the Emily Proctor Shelter on the Long Trail. It is about 0.8 miles from the summit of Mt Wilson to the summit of Breadloaf and the trail looses and gains roughly 250-300 feet of elevation. There are excellent and reliable water sources available at the Emily Proctor Shelter. After this, the trail ascends the summit of Breadloaf without many views. The summit itself is nearby the very obvious hairpin turn on the Long Trail with the highpoint only a hundred yards off the trail itself. A small cairn marks the 3,835' summit with no views. At this point, I turned back and came over Wilson one more time and down to the Clark Brook Trail turnoff

Mt Roosevelt is a summit of little importance to anyone but it does have panoramic views of both Wilson and Breadloaf as well as views to the east. It is only 0.4 miles north of the Clark Brook Trail and a gain of 200 vertical feet. It can be easily done in conjunction with the other summits and I would recommend it for those who want some great photos. 
Mt Wilson is to the left, Breadloaf is to the Right. View from Mt Roosevelt
The ascent that Clark Brook Trail makes from the valley is clear from Mt Roosevelt
A fine wilderness!
Total distance is roughly 10 miles, out-and-back. It makes for a nice full day hike of Vermont's high peaks and a great section of the Long Trail. I would say there is little sense of going all the way up without bagging all three mountains. Whatever your pleasure, it is one of the highlights of the Green Mountains National Forest.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hiking Sandwich Dome, New Hampshire: New England 100 Highest

Sandwich Dome is a popular "almost-4000-footer" which tops the list of New Hampshire's 52 with a View and makes it on New England's Hundred Highest. It is a mountain that can be hiked from all directions and remains a favorite of the southern White Mountains.
View from the summit of Sandwich Dome, looking down into Waterville Valley
Sandwich Dome is the mountain that was almost a 4,000-footer. Although it just barely misses the completely arbitrary cut-off of British imperial units to make the White Mountain 48 list, it is a nice mountain in its own right. It is also one of the finer peaks in the expansive Sandwich Range Wilderness which also includes great hikes of the Tripyramids, Whiteface and Passaconaway and Mt Chocorua. For these reasons, Sandwich Dome has an impressive view of many of the tall summits of the area as well as Waterville Valley. If you hike it from the valley itself, you can bag Jennings Peak and Noon Peak which are shorter, but also have great views.

I hiked this from the Bennett Street Trail which is a steep ascent from the town of Sandwich. Here is my map-

The parking area is just before the gate on Bennett Street, which is mostly unpaved. The last 0.2 miles are a little rough, but I got by okay in my sedan. From here, there is a spider-web of trails and old-logging roads which can be confusing, but the trail to the summit is generally well marked.

Its pretty flat or a hardly noticeable ascent for the first 2.1 miles. The trail goes past the gate and past "Jose's Bridge" in the first 0.5 miles before the "Flat Mountain Pond Trail" diverges to the left. To the right, I took the trail that follows the brook for 0.6 miles and then turned left on a side trail that was signed for Sandwich Dome. This trail gained a little elevation over 0.5 miles and intersected with the Flat Mountain Pond Trail again. At this point, there's a *very* faint trail that heads straight up the mountain, called Gleason Trail. After a few hundred yards on the Gleason Trail, it was apparent that it had not been maintained in years and I turned back; I took the flat mountain pond trail another 0.5 miles north to the Bennett Street Trail (again) where it is signed for Sandwich Dome. (If you can't tell, you really need a map for this one!)
The Bennett Street trail was much easier to follow than the Gleason Trail
From here, the trail ascends to the summit, rather directly, over the course of 2.4 miles. It gains about 2,000' of elevation in this part. It is steep, but if you've hiked anything else in the White Mountains, you know this is just standard. It does wind though some seemingly old-growth woods which is enjoyable. Numerous water sources cross the trail.

There aren't any views until you're right on top of the summit. Here, the views are mostly west and north facing. Although it was foggy when I hiked Sandwich, many other hikers have put this on their "best views" hikes. To be perfectly honest, I thought the views from the Tripyramids and Osceolas were preferable, but Sandwich Dome was nice too. Your experience may differ.
Across a foggy valley! Jennings Peak is the closest point in the foreground. Tecumseh is the mountain in the distance
This was a pretty straightforward out-and-back hike although probably not the best route up Sandwich Dome. I've heard that most prefer the trek from Drakes Brook up Noon Peak, Jennings Peak and then to the Dome. It is steeper and more of a scramble in some sections but has views going all the way up, as opposed to just at the summit. This option is 8.7 miles in length. 

As for me, that's #86 on my New England 100 Highest! Almost there!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hiking Owl's Head, New Hampshire: Misconceptions and Things to Know

Owls Head famously ends up at or near the very end of everyone's pursuit of the White Mountain 4,000 Footers. This is probably because of a combination of the long distance, a "herd path" instead of a trail, total lack of cell coverage and only fleeting views. However, as most who've hiked it will say, it really isn't that bad and most of the hike is quite enjoyable. 
The view from the bridge over Pemigewasset Brook is one of the only views you get on the hike
At this point, the subject of hiking Owl's Head in New Hampshire is probably the most over-written, over-blogged, over-mapped and over-discussed subject in the entire canon of resources on White Mountain Hiking. It is doubtful that I could contribute anything new to the tired subject of it, but no New England Hiking Blog would be complete without at least one post on Owls Head. 

If, by chance, this is your first time hearing about this mountain, then allow me to have the honor of enlightening you. Owl's Head is the given name of a mountain that rises in the center of the Pemigewasset Wilderness of New Hampshire and at 4,025ft, it is one of the White Mountain 4,000-Footers. The name itself is a bit of a misnomer, as summitpost points out- the actual "Owl's Head" is a feature on the southern slope of the summit and the real summit is unnamed. What makes it so famous is that for those wanting to complete the 4,000-footers list, it is the longest hike of them all and it is officially trail-less (but a well-established herd path reaches the summit). Additionally, the true summit was only discovered in 2005 which adds to its wilderness allure. However, AMC old-timers will tell you that way-back-when, the Hancocks and the Bonds were actually even more difficult to get to than Owl's Head before serious trailwork was completed. 

Again, there is likely nothing new I can contribute to the subject, but if by chance this post is graced by the SEO gods of google, then perhaps I can help dispel some mystery around the summit.

Another problem with Owl's Head, the best view is actually from the drive up, not the hike!
Here's my summation of Owl's Head, based on my experiences and a completely unscientific survey of those I've encountered in the past who've hiked it as well as those I met on the trail-

  • The distance is long, but the trails are excellent: Although it is about 18.5 miles in length, this distance is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the trails are in phenomenal shape. Remember all those joint-destroying rocks in the Presidentials, Wildcats and Carters? Its as smooth of sailing as it gets for the majority of the hike. I can't stress this enough. On tough trails, I'm lucky if I average 1.5 miles per hour. I averaged between 2.5-3.5 miles per hour on the trail part and was able to complete the slide in 2 hours.
  • It isn't trail-less: The herd path is as well marked as any trail in the Whites. Everyone who's ever hiked Owl's Head will tell you this. Putting Owl's Head in the bushwhack column (or for that matter Redington) which also includes other legitimate and vicious bushwhacks in the New England 100 Highest and Fifty Finest lists is questionable. Its not a bushwhack; it is a hike that is 90% trailed and 10% heading up an unmarked but very obvious trail.
  • Just because there aren't views doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable: True, you won't get the views you had on nearly every other summit in the Pemi, Presidentials or Kinsman Range, but hiking through the totally wild Pemigewasset Wilderness is delightful. The forest is well preserved and you hike along wild rivers and brooks for the most part. You do get some fleeting views of Lafayette and company from the slide
  • It can be done in a day: Some may look at the raw distance on Owl's Head and be tempted to backpack it. This would be a great backpacking trip but entirely unnecessary if you're doing it to cut down on the day's distance. Let's face it; you have probably hiked the Bonds, Isolation and the Wildcat traverse before finally doing Owls Head and if you can do those in a day, you can do this mountain in a day. For the record, I saw a family of four, several senior hikers and a half dozen dogs who also managed to hike it in one day. 
So there's my $0.02. Here's my map which hopefully illustraits that the majority of the distance gains elevation at an imperceptible rate before the slide-

The actual turn-off for the final 1.1 miles to the summit of Owl's Head via the slide is well marked with a cairn and downed branches making an obvious path. The route up the slide is marked with cairns as well as an obvious well-trodden path. It is a hands-and-feet scramble for the most part (similar to the Tripyramid slides or Mt Coe slide for comparison). 

Other than that, the last logistical side of hiking Owl's Head are the water crossings. There were 4 crossings of creeks that could potentially become dangerous in high water or during storms. This should be considered before you head off the trailhead. I crossed them without getting too wet but that was after 1 week of sun in late July. Consider the time of year and weather patterns before leaving.

Here's a few of my pictures to hopefully give you an idea what to expect-
See? This isn't the kind of trail you get hiking anywhere else in the Whites!
Crossing the creek in July was nothing but in the spring or after a storm, this could be dangerous
Obvious cairn marking the Owl's Head Slide
The uninspiring summit
View of Mt Lafayette from the slide
Looking down the slide
So that's Owl's Head, Joe's impressions. Hope it clears some misconceptions about the hike.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hiking Mt Nancy, Ponds and Cascades, New Hampshire: New England 100 Highest

The hike up to the Nancy Cascades and Nancy Pond is a classic among White Mountain hikes. If you are in to the New England 100 highest peakbagging, you can get the summit of Mt Nancy to make for a perfect day. But all three destinations are excellent on their own.
The view from the outlet of Nancy Pond is one of the best in the range
As you might be able to tell, I'm on a 100 highest kick right now. Its been pretty fun- I've been traveling all around new and old places which I've overlooked in previous adventures. One of these frequently-overlooked-by-4kers places is the Nancy Ponds and Cascades area which includes a lovely section of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Mt Nancy is #74 on the list of New England's 100 Highest Mountains

Here's my map-

The trailhead is right off of Crawford Notch Road (Rt 302) just past the turnoff for Sawyer River Rd and just before Notchland Inn if you're coming from North Conway. It is simply known as "Nancy Pond Trailhead". There's capacity for about 8 cars so get there early if you're coming on a weekend!

So, one way distances are as follows- 2.4 miles to Nancy Cascades, 3.5 miles to Nancy Pond, 4.3 miles to Norcross Pond (the best view on the hike) and 5 miles to the summit of Mt Nancy. The trail is great all the way to Norcross Pond.

The first 2.4 miles to Nancy Cascades are relatively tame by WMNF standards and the combination of shade with nearby water makes for a great hike in itself. The Nancy Cascades are gorgeous and certainly comparable to Ripley and Arethusa Falls, nearby. 
Nancy Cascades
Obviously the Nancy Cascades were an excellent spot for lunch. I would rank the falls as one of the top 10 in New England. 

Continuing upwards, the trail begins to gain substantial elevation in 1.1 miles as it rises to the 3,121' Nancy Pond. This was a more difficult section but there was merciful shade. Nancy Pond itself is more swamp-like than a pond but it is pleasant. Norcross Pond, just 0.8 miles further, was the real treat though. There were about a dozen excellent photo opportunities, including the looming mountains of the Pemi Wilderness rising over the lake's outlet. Mt Anderson rose sharply from the lake's southwestern shore and the alpine flora was lush. I spent a considerable amount of time relaxing here.
Mt Nancy rising from Norcross Pond
Norcross Pond exemplifies a New England alpine pond
Mt Anderson
Mountains of the central Pemi rising in the distance
The Northwestern outlet of Norcross Pond is where the herd path up Mt Nancy begins. It is marked by a small cairn and is very obvious. There used to be signs that said "this is an unmaintained trail" but those have been removed. Regardless, the herd path was easy to follow for the whole 0.7 miles up the summit. As you can tell from the topo map, it is a very steep ascent. 

Mt Nancy's summit has an excellent view of the Presidential Range and Crawford Notch. Most of the New England 100 Highest are simply wooded slopes with no views but Mt Nancy was a nice exception. I didn't find a summit register, but there was a little sign. Overall, it was an easy summit considering its on the "trail-less peaks" list.
Summit of Mt Nancy
Coming down from the summit, I spent more time at Norcross Pond. I wished I could have spent the night up here; I bet the stars were gorgeous. However, thunderstorms were moving in so I had to make a quick descent.

That wasn't too bad for a 100 highest mountain! Again, most of them have no views or difficult bushwhacks! Even if the idea of hiking the 100 highest is silly to you, the cascades and alpine lakes will make the hike worthwhile.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hiking/Bushwhacking Elephant Mountain, Maine: New England 100 Highest

Elephant Mountain is a prominent summit just outside of the Mahoosuc Range in northwestern Maine. Its conspicuous summit is a great view on the nearby lakes and mountains however it was curiously left out of the Appalachian Trail (which skirts only a 1/2 mile from the summit). For peakbaggers, it is a P2K and on the Hundred Highest List.
Elephant Mountain from the logging road
Not that I'm bitter about this insignificant fact, but why was Elephant Mountain not on the Appalachian Trail? Its a gorgeous summit and its one of the dominating features in the Western Maine Mountains. Perhaps it was to appease the hardcore bushwhack hikers who think that trails ruin a mountain. Oh well.

Elephant Mountain, near the Rangeley Lakes, is 3,772' tall and is in one of my favorite parts of the state. The area has some of the tallest summits and largest lakes in the state which makes for excellent hiking and exploring. It should be noted that this Elephant Mountain should not be confused with the shorter but more famous Moosehead Elephant Mountain. Its an officially trail-less peak but the route is pretty well-established at this point. A prudent hiker still needs a GPS, map, compass and good orienteering skills to make it to the summit, but it isn't a total bushwhack like several of the other summits on the NEHH list and NEFF list. 

Here's my map Note that the route is approximate after the end of the logging road-

It should also be said that there are a few discrepancies between this map and the Maine Gazetteer. Most importantly, you will notice that there are two summits of almost exactly the same altitude, separated by a col that is about 170' below. The Gazetteer notes that the northwestern summit is the true summit while other maps say that the southwestern summit is taller. Who knows which one is actually taller, but the register and summit canister are on the southwestern hump, so if that's more important to you, then don't confuse the two!

Secondly, as shown above, the logging road takes an obvious left there at the beginning. It appears on the Gazetteer map as if you could continue straight up the creek on a dirt road, thus cutting off that big "V" you see on the map but this is not the case. Either this cut-off road is non-existent or it has long-been overgrown, because I saw not a trace of it connecting to Elephant Mountain Rd at a higher elevation. On Google maps satellite view, there does appear to be a faint outline of the older road, but I preferred hiking up Elephant Mountain Road despite the extra mileage. 
Elephant Mountain Road
From just about anywhere, you will need to drive to Andover, Maine which is a small town North of Bethel/Sunday River Ski Area. South Arm Road will get you to the "trailhead" and it is a paved road which winds through a beautiful section of the Appalachians. The AT crosses this road just before coming to the turn-off for Elephant Mountain Road/Old Country Road. I'd recommend using a GPS because the dirt roads are not signed. At any rate, it was 10.0 miles exactly from Route 120 in Andover to Old County rd./Elephant Mountain Rd. 

Its about 2.5 miles up the dirt road to the end where it is impossible to travel further in a truck/car. Most park here, I decided to walk up to this point as I do not have a high-clearance vehicle. 
Elephant Mountain has a wooded summit but there are nice views on the road up.
At this point, there's an obviously abandoned logging road that heads in the general direction of the summit. After about a 10 minute walk, the road ends and there's a conspicuous herd path which is marked with a cairn. Its about 0.7 miles to the summit from here with about a 700' elevation gain. The herd path is generally easy to follow up to the saddle- simply take the path of least resistance. There's a small creek that flows from a swamp in between the two summits which serves as a good point of reference. The herd path never crosses this stream although it parallels it towards the top.

Its a moderately steep but direct climb. Once the swamp is reached between the two summits, its about 0.2 miles to the top. Again, don't mistake the northwestern "summit" for the true summit to the southwest. 
The herd path is pretty obvious, for the most part.
Near the summit
The last 0.2 miles are a little tricky. Actually, I found an excellent and easy path to the summit but lost it on the way down and got tangled in an endless mess of thick spruce. Oh well. There were fleeting views of Richardson Lake but not much otherwise. 

At the top, the summit is marked with a canister and register. It appears that even in the summer, Mt Elephant only sees perhaps two dozen hikers in a month. There wasn't much to see at the summit itself so I headed back down.
Heading back down the road
So, all in all, the only real bushwhacking part was the 0.2 miles down from the summit to the saddle when I lost the herd path. Certainly not as difficult as some other New England 'whacks! Otherwise, it was a pretty straightforward walk-up which was easily completed in 1/2 a day. Nearby is the South Arm Campground which is lovely. 

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Hiking Grass Mountain, Vermont: New England 50 Finest

Grass Mountain is a trail-less hike in southern Vermont and a P2K. It is on New England's 50 Finest list and is an interesting wilderness hike/bushwhack.
A nice view near the summit of Grass Mountain
Continuing with the attempt to climb New England's 50 Finest, I headed out to the very southwestern-est corner of Vermont to climb Grass Mountain. Unlike many of the other summits on NEFF, there's little reason to visit it other than to finish the list. Well, the hike actually was quite pleasant and there was a nice view from the top so it's not entirely pointless. Nevertheless, there's a scarcity of trip reports (or any information, for that matter). Fortunately, I found a few who were from other NEFF questers.

Here's the route I took-

To get to the "trailhead", I basically plugged in the GPS coordinates of the end of Shatsbury Hollow Rd to my maps and took a network of paved and unpaved roads to the end. None of them were 4x4 roads, just well-maintained gravel roads. I pretty much parked at the end of the road where it forks into a private road and an unmaintained logging road. Nobody gave me any trouble.

The unmaintained logging road which I walked along basically paralleled Little White Creek and came alongside an apparently vacant hunter's cabin. From here, it criss-crossed the creek about 5 times before staying to the right of the creek and ascending to the col. It does appear that there is a completely run-down road that keeps to the left of the creek as well but this option is less-preferable. The road I took diverts substantially from the creek while ascending and I almost thought I had taken the wrong route. However, it eventually met back up with the creek just below the col. At this point, the creek was a mere trickle.
Walking along the road that parallels the creek
Grass Mountain's location in Southern Vermont and relatively low height made for a different hike than what I'm used to in New England. Almost the entire walk up to the col was through broad-leaved forest which was fantastically green this time of year. Even towards the summit, there were very few conifers. Again, quite different from the thick krummholz which is usually seen even at low summits. 

At the col, many have noted the presence of a broken down Subaru. Well, I'm sure it was once a car, but now it is simply a pile of rocks and debris. However it does mark the point where you begin to cut through the forest to reach the summit. 

In the way of New England Bushwhacking, this is about as easy as it gets- the whack is just a straightforward walk-up through some mild brush and trees. Its pretty easy to know where you're going although the summit itself is a broad plateau with multiple high-ish looking points. After it became apparent that I had gained all the elevation I could, I scouted out about 3 points within a 15 minute radius which all seemed about the same. Regardless, the summit canister itself is a yellow PVC pipe at the end of a decrepit ATV trail with a small clearing. There are fleeting views.
The col and the Subaru. I'm pretty sure the road continues to the summit, but I elected to do the bushwhack from here
The summit area
There wasn't a whole lot to see at the summit, but as I continued down, I came to an expansive clearing which served as a great lunch spot-
Great barren spot near the summit
I believe the total out-and-back distance was about 6 miles and it was not a difficult hike, by New England standards. Certainly it has more in common with hiking in the Berkshires than it does the Green Mountains. It was a nice change in scenery and a great opportunity to get some more bushwhacking in. So even if you're not a compulsive peak-bagger, its a nice hike.

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