Sunday, June 15, 2014

Double Hit-and-Run to Close Out Vermont - June 8, 2014

Hike 1: Dorset Peak (3770', NEHH - #89)
Route: Logging Roads and Herd Paths
Mileage: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 2420 feet
Book Time: 4hr 45min (actual 3hr 45min)

Hike 2: Mount Equinox (3850', NEHH - #90)
Route: Blue Summit Trail
Mileage: 6.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 2800 feet
Book Time: 4hr 30min (actual 4hr 40min)

This was a pair of hike with the AMC Boston Chapter led by some hiking friends Pam and Bill. The goal was to hike 2 individual hikes, both New England 100-Highest Peaks in Southern Vermont. Both hikes are only a short distance away from each other and in theory are very attainable in one day. Plus, we were camping at the Emerald Lake State Park, which is on the side of Dorset Peak, though a 20 minute drive from the trailhead (don't ever be in a hurry to get somewhere in Vermont! The scenery is always great though!)

Dorset Peak was first, being the Northernmost peak of this duo. The standard approach is from Dorset Hollow to the South via a series of old logging roads and snowmobile trails and there is actually a solid description of the route in the Green Mountain Club's Day Hiker's Guide to Vermont. Parking is tight at the trailhead, which is basically where the road becomes impassible (high clearance vehicles may be able to go 1/10-mile further to a grassy clearing). From there, we continued up the road alongside a brook until the road became washed out and we crossed the brook and continued up the road on that bank. Soon the road begins climbing in earnest, passing a rather run-down cabin along the way. Reaching a saddle on the ridge, we turned right uphill (the road continues ahead down to the other side of the mountain), and took another right shortly thereafter to continue uphill.

Mossy Falls along the lower road
After a little while, we reached the ridgeline and continued straight ahead until reaching the infamous "Doorknob Junction" (see the pictures). Turning left here (there are a few rough signs on the ridge, follow the ones for the North Peak) we soon reached the peak and the summit canister. On the way down, we took the short loop over the South Peak (also indicated by signs) where there are the remains of an old tower. As we had another hike to do, and the black flies were also horrendous on the ridge, we booked it out of there and were back to the cars in short order. This was a pretty easy hike, there are a few steepish stretches, but nothing we weren't used to, and the footing was pretty good and so we made good time on this one. Off to Equinox!

Is that a doorknob on a tree? Yup!

Doorknob Junction

Main summit of Dorset Peak

The footpath to Dorset

Old pitchers on the Dorset summit

South Peak of Dorset. Old fire tower and a barbeque.

Equinox was our second hike of the day, and was supposed to have good views. However, those views come at a price. It is a steep trail, gaining 2800 feet in about 3 miles, but that doesn't tell the whole tale as the beginning and the end are fairly flat. This sucker was steep, and of course it was our second hike of the day, plus it was hot and humid. All of that combined to make this a fairly difficult hike, but I suspect if we were doing this first thing in the morning it would have been easier.

We lost one member of our hiking party before this hike (the person didn't "need" this peak, and had to drive all the way back to Maine), but the remaining 8 of us struck out on the Blue Summit Trail in the early afternoon (this is the only trail to the top, though there is an Auto Road to the summit too). Pam's 10-pound poodle had hiked to Dorset with us in the morning, but she seemed to be limping at the start of this one. Trey offered to carry her in his pack for a while, though luckily for him after an hour or so she started walking again without a limp and seemed content to walk the rest of the way up and then down on her own.

Poor Sophie - she thought we were finished when we got back in the cars after the first hike!

Easy stretch of the Blue Summit Trail down low - flat and wide before the steeps and rocks
This is a fairly straight-forward hike, though steep and not surprisingly rocky, and eventually we did make the summit (after many, many breaks), which has good views to the North and the South, though the summit area is sullied by a sizable visitor's center building and a large parking lot. The views were also pretty hazy on this day, all of which combined to make this a bit of a disappointment. I'm not sure why, perhaps I need to revisit it and give it another shot. We hung out at the top for a while before eventually heading down (the black flies were out and about up here too though not nearly as bad as on Dorset in the morning). Then it was time for the long drive home, but I had another state completed on the New England 100-Highest! There was great company on both of these hikes, it's great to hike with friends both old and new on days like this. Off to Maine to finish the NEHH, hopefully sometime in August!

There are a bunch of large marble slabs stood up on the summit of Equinox - this one was about 8' high!

Views North from Equinox

What we are looking at to the North (Killington is mislabeled however)

View South from Equinox

Stratton Mountain (the tower was just barely visible on the left peak)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Quick Afternoon Hike up Stratton Mountain (VT) - June 7, 2014

Route: Long Trail
Peaks: Stratton Mountain (3940', NEHH)
Mileage: 7.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1750'
Book Time: 4hr 40 min (actual 3 hours)

Entering this year, I had only 3 peaks on the New England 100-Highest List left in Vermont, all conveniently located within a short distance of each other in Southern Vermont. Knowing all 3 were relatively short hikes (all under 8 miles), I figured on spending a weekend to visit them all. Some other friends needed the same 3 peaks, but ultimately an AMC hiking weekend was set up without hitting Stratton. So, while the group went to Mendon Peak (on the ridge with Killington Peak), I decided to sleep in on Saturday, and hit Stratton on the way to the campground. The next day we were scheduled to hike the remaining 2 peaks I needed in Vermont.

There's only one direct way to hike Stratton Mountain, which is to use the Long Trail (also the Appalachian Trail in this part of the state) from Kelly Stand Road in Stratton, a hike which is 3.8 miles and a mere 1750 feet of elevation gain on a gradual ascent to an old fire tower. While a Northern knob of Stratton Mountain is home to a ski area, the main summit of Stratton is wooded and marred only by a 55-foot tall tower that allows terrific 360-degree views over the trees and a small cabin that houses the summit caretakers.

Starting yet another hike in the late morning (11:20 in this case) means tougher parking, though if folks could someday learn to park without leaving ALMOST but not quite enough room for another car next to them, another 6-8 cars could have easily fit in the lot. This seems to be a common issue these days, but there was plenty of roadside parking on the other side of the street on the grassy shoulder, so not a problem today.

I set off just barely ahead of a large group, and I walked quickly at the beginning to get a little semblance of solitude. I wasn't expecting to be alone on the trail, but being stuck admist a group of 15-20 people that you don't know wasn't something I wanted either. However, such groups tend to move slower than one person, and I was soon on my own in the woods on a beautiful afternoon. I passed a few afternoon climbers, and several more were on their way down on this beautiful afternoon. This trail has got to be the easiest trail to a high peak in New England. The trail had terrific footing the whole way, and there was not a single even brief steep section, I never really noticed the climb it was so gradual compared to what I normally hike. In less than 1.5 hours, I was at the top in fact!

Pink Lady's Slipper
There were maybe a dozen people milling around the top, but there are numerous nooks in the woods around the tower and cabin, and there was still plenty of room for more. The summit caretakers were also there, talking with some people. Me, I immediately headed to the top of the fire tower, as there wasn't much views-wise to be seen from the ground. I had heard great things about the Stratton summit views, and I was eager to see them. I was not disappointed. The views ranged far in all directions, with Mount Greylock in Massachusetts, Killington to the North, and even Mount Monadnock to the East visible. The enclosed top of the tower had some identification labels taped to the glass to give you an idea of what you were looking at, awesome!

Stratton Mountain Ski Area a little ways down the ridge to the North

Killington Peak (center) with Mendon on the left (Pico is directly behind Mendon)

Southward Pano from Stratton Mountain

Snow Mountain ski area just to the South

Mount Greylock, the Massachusetts State Highpoint, in the distance to the South (just right of center)

Westward Pano from Stratton Mountain

Mount Equinox to the West, on tomorrow's agenda

Dorset Peak (the right-hand mountain ridge), another New England 100 Highest peak

I took a 20-30 minute break at the summit (beer at the campsite was calling!), but eventually tore myself away and headed down. The descent took roughly the same time as the ascent, and was just as pleasant a walk through the Spring-time woods. I really enjoyed this hike, short as it may have been. Never needing to worry about the footing except on a couple damp bog bridges and a couple small muddy areas down low meant lots of time spent looking around and just listening to the birds. A highly recommended trek for a sunny day!

Some Stratton Mountain history

The Stratton Mountain tower

Summit survey marker

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Scar Ridge - June 1, 2014

Route: Access Road to Camp III, Lower Walking Boss Ski Trail, Upper Walking Boss Ski Trail, herd path, bushwhack, blue square ski trails back to Camp III
Peaks: West Scar Ridge (3774', NEHH)
Mileage: 8.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3200 feet
Book Time: It's a bushwhack (actual time: 6hr 10min)

Scar Ridge. The bushwhack that bushwhackers dread. But the West Peak, the one that counts for the New England 100 Highest, is not supposed to be too bad from Loon Mountain. The general route is to follow a series of ski trails up to nearly the top of the ski area and then pick up an obvious out-of-bounds ski trail that follows the ridge to Black Mountain. When the herd path swings North to go to Black (about 6/10-mile in), the bushwhack begins, more or less following the ridge, though it sounded like we did not want to end up on the South side of the ridge. There are 2 sub-peaks of West Scar, but the Western-most one (West West Scar if you will) is the recognized highpoint. There is apparently a canister on East-West Scar too from when it was thought to be the main summit.

Greg YEAH!, who I've hiked with once before to Owl's Head a couple winters ago and I ran into on the Kinsmans this winter, wanted to come along which was great as I didn't really want to do this one solo. We had talk of also doing another easier hike after this one, so we met early at the Loon parking lot 9No issues with parking space when there's no snow!), and headed up around 7. The ascent to the gondola station near the summit of Loon went well enough, though it should be noted that the Upper Walking Boss Ski Trail is a black diamond trail, and thus is STEEP! We zig-zagged our way up in a few spots to ease the strain on the calves.

The herd path was easy to find, and we set off. We slightly overshot the typical starting point of the bushwhack as the turn to the North was not as obvious as expected, but we backtracked to the right part and started in. The short descent to the col was scratchy but not horrible, and the col was really swampy and took some poking around to get through without sinking down to nothingness. From there we 'whacked roughly SE to the upper ridge, then went mostly due East to the summit. The going was never all that great, and at times was fairly thick, usually with dead branches that poke, scratch, and otherwise are a pain. At times there were herd paths, but they never lasted long, though there were far more near the summit. We did find the canister on the summit, in the most open woods we saw on the whole day...

Camp III with Big Coolidge and Whaleback Mountains in the background

Big Coolidge Mountain (L), Whaleback Mountain (C), Potash Knob (R)

The pointy peaks of Liberty and Flume peeking up behind Whaleback. Black Mountain on the right.

Going back was worse than coming up. We started off on a herd path going the right direction, which almost immediately ended, and then we generally tried to follow the "better" woods while keeping to the ridgeline. Unfortunately we fell a bit off to the South side of the ridge and every attempt to get back to the main ridge resulted in impenetrable woods. The bright spot was that we missed the swamp in the col, but getting from where we were about 50 feet vertical below the col back to the herd path was extremely difficult and resulted in spruce swimming where we couldn't always see each other a mere couple yards apart. Finally getting back to the herd path, we quickly went back to the ski slopes, took a short break, and then headed down, using a few blue square ski trails (not as steep) to get back down to near Camp III. With it now early afternoon and us drained, we called it a day and so I got home nice and early for a change.

Looking back and comparing notes and the GPS track to that of those that had helped with some of the beta information, it appears that we just missed the line of decent woods heading up. I was sent a picture of one of the thicker sections one person ran into, and it was akin to one of the better stretches we saw. Apparently we missed the right line, though not by much. Going back, well, we knew we were off, so that is what it is. At least we made the summit, and this one is checked off now! Thanks Greg for coming along and sharing in the misery.

Back to It - Goose Eye - NEHH 86 - May 31, 2014

Route: Goose Eye Trail, Mahoosuc Trail, Carlo Col Trail
Peaks: Goose Eye (3870', NEHH), Goose Eye - East Peak (3794'), Mount Carlo (3565')
Mileage: 8.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3200ft
Book Time: 5hr 50min (actual 5hr 25min)

With winter's last traces having finally faded away and closed-for-winter roads once again open, it's back to working on the New England 100 Highest for me. I hope to finish this list sometime this summer, with 15 peaks remaining entering 2014. First up this year turned out to be Goose Eye, a great peak in the middle of the always-fun Mahoosuc Range and just over the New Hampshire border into Maine.

After a nasty experience on the rough logging road known as Success Pond Road last Spring where I was barely able to manage a 10mph average over 12+ miles of rough road in my low-clearance car (and I was pushing it in many places), I had resigned myself to driving into Maine for the Eastern approach via the Wright Trail. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that trail (I've never done it and don't know many folks that have), but I really wanted to do the Goose Eye-Mount Carlo Loop from Success Pond Road (more red-lining that way :) ). I was pleasantly pleased to hear in late May that the first 3 miles of the road had been regraded this Spring, as that was the worst part from last year. I was cautiously optimistic that I could make it in without beating up my car, so I decided to give it a shot.

The weather for this day was supposed to be cloudy and even a little drizzly early, but clearing out nicely in the afternoon, so knowing the hike wasn't super-long and sunset is late this time of the year, I slept in and took a leisurely drive up North, shooting for a roughly 11AM departure. The road was actually in far better shape than I could have ever imagined, with lots of re-grading having been done (mostly on the first 3 miles, but in a few other spots further out as well), and almost no large rocks sticking up. Without even pushing it, I was comfortably able to maintain a 20mph average, slowing down below 15mph in only 1 or 2 spots to deal with small ditches that were easily dealt with. It took 25 minutes to drive the 8.1 miles to the Carlo Col Trailhead, my starting and ending point.

Starting off just before 11, the skies were just starting to clear up a little, and it looked like my timing was going to work out well. After only 1/4-mile on the Carlo Col Trail, I hung a left off the road that the first part of that trail follows and picked up the Goose Eye Trail which would take me to the summit. The lower portion of this trail had several stream crossings that were wide but not deep and thus easily managed, and then a TON of mud. Soon the trail began to climb, and passed a sign that must have marked the state line (I found a survey marker indicating as much next to it), but the sign itself was blank.

Clearing skies as I started out on the Carlo Col Trail

One of a couple of early semi-major stream crossings on the Goose Eye Trail

I imagine the sign once stapled on here indicated the NH/ME state line

State Line survey marker near the above sign

Young hardwoods low on the Goose Eye Trail
Soon after the state line, the trail began climbing, and hard. There was the not un-expected erosion along the trail, and even a couple small patches of ice near the top, but it climbed and soon reached the open, awesome main summit of Goose Eye. Some maps incorrectly mark the East Peak of Goose Eye, 1/2-mile North on the Mahoosuc Trail, as the main summit, but it is in fact on the Goose Eye Trail near the junction with the Mahoosuc Trail. The skies had cleared up in the immediate area nicely, though the Presidential and other high ranges were still playing with the clouds. Still, it was an awesome peak, which I had all to myself for the 20-30 minutes I spent on it. I was ahead of my schedule, and decided I should also venture over the the cool-looking East Peak of Goose Eye, since it wasn't all that far away.

First views high on the Goose Eye Trail

Old Speck in the distance

The infamous Mahoosuc Notch

Pano from Goose Eye over the Success Pond Road vicinity

Goose Eye East Peak

A couple people hanging out on Goose Eye's East Peak

Mahoosuc Range heading North

Old Speck, Mahoosuc Arm, Mahoosuc Mountain, Fulling Mill Mountain in order from furthest to nearest

Kilkenny Range - 3-bumped Terrace, then Cabot, The Bulge, and The Horn left to right

Southern Kilkenny Range - Starr King, Waumbek, and the 3 Weeks left to right
Heading over to the East Peak, I ran into the 2 people I had seen from the summit of Goose Eye. They had come up the Wright Trail and were tagging Goose Eye, so I also saw them on my way back towards Mount Carlo. The East Peak was cool and it had good views to the ridge heading North with lots of awesome-looking alpine bogs. One of these days I will get back up to hike that section of the Mahoosuc Trail. Heading back down the East Peak to return to near the main peak where I would continue South on the Mahoosuc Trail, I had a fun encounter with my nemesis: angled, wet rock slabs. I skidded pretty good and ripped up the side of my left hand some, but after some self-first aid I was back in action.

The trail off of Goose Eye towards Mount Carlo has a section with a steep ladder mounted to a cliff face and several steel rungs mounted into the rock below it. Descending this wasn't actually that bad thankfully, but I forgot to take some good pictures of this spot, which was one of the reasons I had wanted to do this route! Oops!

The main peak of Goose Eye from the East Peak

The Baldpates in Grafton Notch

Cool-looking alpine bog stretch heading North on the Mahoosuc Trail

Pano from the East Peak of Goose Eye looking towards the main peak and Mount Carlo

Looking down the ladder

Do you see the ladder?

How about now?

Goose Eye from a shoulder en-route to Mount Carlo
From the alpine shoulder below the ladder/rungs section, the trail entered the woods, passed through the col, and climbed moderately to Mount Carlo. I'm not sure what I was expecting from this summit, but after Goose Eye it was disappointing. The views were limited to over the mid-height trees, and so I took a few pictures and just headed down. Shortly before the Carlo Col Trail entered, I ran into the 3rd and final person I would see on this hike, a backpacker heading North, who looked to possibly be a thru-hiker (the majority of the Mahoosuc Trail is on the Appalachian Trail).

I made a quick stop at the Carlo Col Shelter just off the Carlo Col Trail, which had a lot of bags of what I assume to be material for the composting toilet stacked right in front of it. From the shelter, the initial descent down the trail constantly crossed, recrossed, and often followed down the middle of a stream bed. But eventually it turned into a nice, smooth trail down with some avoidable mud, before popping out onto a road for the last stretch back to the car. #86 down!