Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New England 4000-Footer Finish - Ellen and Abraham - July 21, 2013

Several years back (2007), as my father and I finished the New Hampshire 4000-Footers together, we had talked about doing the New England 4000-Footers next. That plan got put on the far back burner, as both of our lives got busier and busier, with little opportunity for us to get a whole week together to work on these peaks, many of which were a significantly longer drive than the Whites had been (which themselves were 8-9 hours of driving away). But then I relocated to Massachusetts for work, and eventually got back into hiking.

Pretty quickly I set my sights on getting to these new-to-me peaks, and last summer I ended up doing 13 of the 14 peaks in Maine (and my father was even able to come along for the Baxter State Park peaks which was great). This spring I set my sights on finishing the list, preferably early in the summer. While I had intended to finish on Old Speck in Maine, that ended up being the first of the last 6 that I completed, so now I was left with only Vermont.

I have greatly enjoyed my hikes in Vermont this year; over the 4th of July weekend I was able to knock off 3 of the 5 4000-footers in Vermont, leaving just 2, Ellen and Abraham, to finish off this latest adventure.

Originally planned to be on a Saturday and with a few of those I've hiked with in the last 2 years planning to come along, the intent was to do the classic gap-to-gap traverse, North to South, from Appalachian Gap to Lincoln Gap. But thanks to Mother Nature deciding to bring in a strong storm front, I postponed this hike by a day, to the following day (7-21-13) when the weather was forecast to be perfect. This had the side effect of meaning that all but 1 person could no longer come, but that was fine. I was looking forward to this hike.

Separated by a mostly wooded, though gentle, ridgeline of about 3.5 miles, Abraham and Ellen are the only 2 4000-footers in Vermont that can be done in the same hike. Not wanting to do the long (~30 minute) car spot after all, we (myself and Theresa again, these were her last 2 4000-footers in Vermont, bringing her total to 61) opted to do the slightly longer (by 1 mile) out-and-back to Ellen from Lincoln Gap to the South. I really wanted to finish on Abraham, so we planned to not "tag up" when crossing the trail on Abraham until our return in the afternoon.

Setting out around 8:45 under overcast skies (rather than the "predominantly sunny" skies that had been forecast...), we made pretty quick work of the climb up Abraham. It is a 2.6-mile climb, but only the last 3/4 mile is at all steep, thanks to the high elevation of the trailhead (~2400 feet). We saw a fair number of people already on their descent, most of whom reported the skies were still cloudy. Oh well, hopefully they would clear by afternoon.

Main parking lot at Lincoln Gap at 8:45. Filling fast but another lot just down the road was still empty.

Yeay for high starting elevations!

The Long Trail a bit below the Battell Shelter

Low cloud deck on Abraham in the morning

Hopefully this will clear out by afternoon!
Barely even pausing as we crossed the summit area of Abraham, we side-stepped the actual summit and dropped down to head towards Ellen. Shortly down from the summit, we took the well-worn herd path that goes to the remains of a Cessena airplane that crashed here in 1973 (apparently with no fatalities). The path is short (maybe 100 feet or so), and brings you to a small but impressive debris field with most of the plane still there (the engine is the only major notable missing piece). This was a cool spot to check out, and it was cool to see just how much remained after all these years.

Herd path left to the plane, Long Trail right to Lincoln Peak

The cockpit seats have been taken over by moss

After that diversion, we continued on to Lincoln Peak, which has a short spur trail to a summit platform, and just beyond is the top of one of the many ski slopes on this ridge (Sugarbush).

Abraham from between it and Lincoln Peak

Playing with the 20x zoom on the new camera - hey, people on the Lincoln Peak summit platform! (L of center)

A minor bump on the way to Lincoln Peak

Ellen, way off in the distance, from Lincoln Peak. We've got a long way to go!

Ellen on the far left, with the sharp point of Camel's Hump to the right

Pano from the chairlift on Lincoln Peak

Admiring the view

Seeing just how long a way we had to go, we tore ourselves away from the views and steadily made our way across the ridge, taking in the sights at the couple of small viewpoints along the way. The trail on the entire ridge offered good footing, and had only a few gentle ups and downs over a myriad of named subpeaks (there is less than 1000 feet of elevation gain along the ridge between Abraham and Ellen), so while lengthy, we made our way with little trouble out to the wooded summit of Mount Ellen. A few yards further North and we were at the top of another chairlift, where we stopped for lunch.

View between Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen

Parking lot and building way down at the base of the mountain

Looking North from the chairlift on Mount Ellen

Camel's Hump (L) and Mount Mansfield (R) from Mount Ellen

Stark's Nest, a ski building at the top of General Stark Mountain

Another shot North from Mount Ellen

After a nice long break, we hung a u-turn, and motored back to Mount Abraham with hardly any breaks. We made great time, covering the 3.7 miles in under 2 hours, and popped out onto a busy but hardly crowded, and now cloudless summit. Tagging up, and now I had #67!

The views from Mount Abraham were terrific, and definitely a great peak to finish this list on. Looking around, we were able to pick out Mount Whiteface in the Adirondacks to the West, Killington and Pico to the South, and we think Moosilaukee and the Kinsman/Cannon ridge to the East. The temperature was nice, the humidity was low (for once, unlike the last month of insane humidity), and there was a light breeze. Simply a perfect day on the summit.

One of 2 survey markers on the summit of Abraham


Out towards the high peaks region of the Adirondacks - Marcy is in there among others

Mount Whiteface in NY

Mount Ellen from Abraham

Looking out towards NH

Wilson (L) and Breadloaf (R) from Abraham - yesterday's hike

Killington (back left), Pico just to its right. You can just see the ski slopes on Pico.

People enjoying the beautiful day

Pano to the SouthWest from Abraham

Says it all!

After a while of enjoying the views and just relaxing, we did the descent, reaching the trailhead without incident. NOW it was official. In a little over a year, I hiked my way to each of the 67 4000-footers in New England (including each of the NH ones again). NH is wonderful, but I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the 19 other peaks on this list in Vermont and Maine. It was more driving in most cases, but well worth it. I also look forward to re-visiting some of these peaks in winter, I expect that most of them must be superb in winter. But for now, I look back 6 or so years back when this seemed unlikely, and can be proud that I actually did it. Better yet, my dad has been showing interest in trying to finish this list too (and we even have a plan in place to do the 11 he has left in Maine next summer), meaning I will get to revisit all of these wonderful peaks again!

Route: Long Trail from Lincoln Gap to Mount Ellen and back
Peaks: Little Abe (3900'), Lincoln Peak (3975'), Nancy Hanks Peak (3812'), Cutts Peak (4022'), Mount Ellen (4083', NE4K), Mount Abraham (40006', NE4K)
Mileage: 12.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3100ft
Book Time: 7hrs 50min (actual 9hrs 10min)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wilson and Breadloaf - July 20, 2013

This day was originally slated to be the day I finished the New England 4000-Footer List, on Mounts Abraham and Ellen in Vermont. But Mother Nature had other ideas, with a large front line slated to move through during the day and threatening to contain heavy and severe thunderstorms, which would pop up off and on all day. Come Friday afternoon, the forecast had improved a little, but not much, so that was put off a day.

Instead, Saturday would be a trek to Mount Wilson and Breadloaf Mountain, 2 peaks on the New England 100-Highest that were only a few miles from Abraham and Ellen. Being wooded peaks close together on a ridgeline, with a shelter situated in between them, this was a good plan B for a potentially sketchy day. The plan was to use the Emily Proctor Trail, which ascends to the ridge and the Emily Proctor Shelter, with less than 1 mile of ridge walking to each peak (in opposite directions along the Long Trail).

Waking up Saturday morning, the forecast had improved a bit more. Theresa had come along again for both hikes, as she needed all 4 peaks scheduled on her pursuit of the Hundred Highest. We were a bit late getting to the trailhead, thanks in part to a missed turn, and then a very rough 0.3-mile section of road leading to the trailhead, but at 10AM we were on-trail, under clear sunny skies. Haha!

Parking lot at the Emily Proctor Trail

There are some primitive campsites at the Emily Proctor Trailhead, free to stay at

At the trailhead, there is a sign pointing up a small hill that says "toilet". This is indeed a toilet...

Entering the Breadloaf Wilderness early on the Emily Proctor Trail. But I wanted to bring my hanglider!
Hanging a right immediately out of the parking lot (straight goes up the Cooley Glen Trail, which goes way far down the ridge from our goal), we made good time on the early portion of the trail. It is easily graded, has good footing, and was a pleasant walk in the woods. As we hiked, we noticed the sky was clouding up, but we had expected to get wet on this hike and there was a shelter ahead if it got really heavy.

Looking upstream at the only major stream crossing on the trail

With a new camera, I played with the shutter speed to blur the water some. I need more practice :)

Another slowed-shutter speed shot of the stream

Trailside artifact, from the logging days perhaps. This thing was 18-24" in diameter.

Looks like some sort of sprocket for a large chain

The last 1.5 or so miles of the trail is where the major elevation gain is. But it is never overly steep, the footing is good, and the trail was in great shape. Before long, we were approaching the shelter, as it started to lightly rain. Arriving to an empty shelter shortly before noon (wow, did we really climb 2000 feet in 3.5 miles in under 2 hours!?), we sat down to have a snack, and as we ate the skies opened up. It rained HARD, so hard we could barely see across the shelter clearing, but we were dry thanks to the shelter. I'm not sure we could have timed that any more perfectly.

Emily Proctor Shelter

Interestingly, I had a decent cell signal at the shelter, and was able to check the radar and see that this was indeed a passing pop-up cell, and that the main front line was still and hour or more behind, in NY state. So once the rain stopped, we packed up from our 45-minute break, and headed off on the Long Trail to Mount Wilson. The Long Trail Guide says that this is a 0.9-mile one-way trip, but it is way less than that (and looks way less on the maps too), we measured around 0.5 miles on the GPS. There is no summit marker aside from a small cairn, but checking the map and the GPS confirmed that this was indeed the summit. There is supposed to be a spur nearby to some views, but we didn't bother looking for it as we could tell there was not going to be anything to see but the inside of a cloud, something we've both seen plenty of times before.

Mount Wilson

At the summit of Mount Wilson

Long Trail at the summit of Mount Wilson - nice treadway
Taking a quick u-turn after the summit photos, we returned to the Emily Proctor Shelter, then continued South on the Long Trail the 0.6 miles to the short spur to the summit of Breadloaf Mountain. A bit rougher of a trail segment than that to Wilson, but still not bad as it was short-lived. Again, another peak in the woods, but we did continue to the abrupt end of the spur as it descends a short way to a limited view point. The clouds were slightly breaking, and we had a couple fleeting views here.

Another u-turn, and another arrival at the Emily Proctor Shelter yielded our first people sighting since we left the trailhead. 2 members of Vermont's Youth Conservation Corps were there, cleaning up trash other hikers/backpackers had left (we had planned to pick some of it up on our way out). We had a nice conversation with these young folks, who seemed to be really loving their summer job. They were also planning to brush in a few false herd paths on their way back down the Emily Proctor Trail. A group of 4 dayhikers also arrived as we were talking, on their way to Breadloaf. That was the extent of the people we saw on this day, a quiet one on the trails.

We took another look at the radar as the front should have been passing about this time, and we were pleasantly surprised to see the front had mostly dissolved in Vermont, and it was in fact right over us at this time (and noticably NOT raining). So, we headed down, and while we felt a brief light sprinkle of rain, by the time we returned to the car, the sun was starting to come back out again. We lucked out nicely on this one, and thanks to some really nice trails, we made great time despite the long stop to wait out the rain cell at lunch time. In fact, we completed this hike in 6 hours, which would be "book time"!

And 2 more checkmarks for both of us. But the next day was to be a nice day, free of the heat wave we've been stuck in, and I was scheduled to finish my New England 4000-Footers!

Route: Emily Proctor Trail, Long Trail (to both Wilson and the Breadloaf Spur), Breadloaf Spur
Peaks: Mount Wilson (3790', NEHH), Breadloaf Mountain (3835', NEHH)
Mileage: 9.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2700ft
Book Time: 6hr 5 min