Closing down the trails at Bolton Valley, VT in fresh powder!
Tedy and I are finished with Mt. Tecumseh, 4,000-ft peak #3! Snow, floods, and smiles at Mt. Hale, NH Sara and several of NH's Presidential peaks laid out
in front of me, as we start the last leg of our 21-mi hike
Spending July moving at a slower pace Kingdom Trails, VT: best MTB in the Northeast!
Friday, December 27, 2013
The Best Adventures of 2013
As each year winds down, the media loves doing year end recaps: person of the year, sportsman of the year, best songs, notable celebrity deaths, best movies, top bloopers… In my quest to be a lemming I’d like to follow suit and recap my best moment from each month of the year.
After all the Spring hikes, I spent July digging toes into the sand instead of pounding them on miles of rocks; chucking kids into the waves instead of hoisting a backpack onto my shoulders, and admiring a sun coming up over the ocean instead of going down over the mountains. It provided a chance to rejuvenate, to be purposeless, and there’s nothing cuter than kids on a beach.
2013 included a lot of mountain peaks along with the ocean; time for Sara and me to explore remote parts of New England and for us to teach the girls how nature can be a fun way to learn about the world and ourselves. There was the bustle of a campsite or a hut with enthusiastic friends and strangers, and the remoteness of being the last ones down a ski trail or hiking a mountain in the falling snow. Whatever next year holds, this month has begun setting up the cycle to repeat again: more adventures, more memories, more bonding, more opportunities for us all to grow individually and as a family. It’s a great pattern that doesn’t get old, and I can’t wait to see how 2014 unfolds.
See you on the trail,
Jay, AKA Rock Hoper
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Hike #15: Mount Monadnock with kids
Date: October 26, 2013
Location: Jaffrey, NH
Distance: 4.2 miles
Time: 5:26 (1:18/mile)
My daughters, 8- and 10-year-olds, are not fans of hiking. Skiing, beaches, and occasional letterboxes, sure. Even casual tennis. But they don’t like hard exertion, sweating, or the accompanying stink, and my best cajoling hasn’t made a noticeable dent in their lack of enthusiasm. I’ve since snapped. Not “snapped” as in talking to myself in tongue, or going to work naked, or getting out of my truck to run through traffic jams flapping my arms and screaming “I’ll get there first!” I’ve decided that if they aren’t inherently inclined to hike then I’ll force the issue, do my best to make it enjoyable for them, and hope they come to appreciate it at some point.
After hiking with my 8- and 10-year-old girls in August, when they reluctantly claimed Mount Wachusett as their first summit, I was determined to get one more hike with them before winter set in. After a couple of attempts fell through for various reasons, I approached the last weekend in October as our final shot and I was determined to take advantage of it.The unsuccessful couple of attempts in prior weeks had prepped them that I wouldn’t give up, but they were still nervous in the run-up to the weekend, with cold weather forecasted. Having read many articles on hiking with kids, I tried to prep them as best as I could. I explained that they were mostly in charge of the hike, whether pace, route, pictures, or breaks. We got suitably fashionable thermal underwear, and I explained to them about layering. I also worked with them to take ownership over managing their hydration and nutrition, with one taking a smaller Camelbak and the other using a fanny pack. That Saturday, as we set out at noon from a crowded parking lot, they were actually in good spirits and enjoying being geared up.
|All geared up and ready to go!|
It was a fantastic day. With two grown-ups and two kids, the four of us drifted together and apart, in varying combinations, as we worked our way up the mountain. We talked casually, offered hiking tips, listened as the girls opened up more over the day, laughed, and enjoyed occasional silence. We sometimes hopped, tip-toed, used handholds, and risked falls in puddles. The girls, with packs of their own and responsibility to manage themselves, rummaged for snacks and drank whenever they wanted instead of only when we suggested.
|The girls earned the view and lunch!|
|Enjoying the rock scrambles!|
|Monadnock's summit, AKA the halfway point.|
Plenty of hiking still to go!
They also found perseverance and new perspective. As we fell far off the pace, and became some of the last people heading down the mountain, with well over a mile to go, we had to choose between picking up the pace or finishing in the dark. Sydney showed she could consistently maintain a surprisingly good pace, and happily bonded with me as we rock hopped up ahead before waiting for Sara and Sarah to catch up. Sarah learned fatigue is sometimes as mental as it is physical, picking up the pace when she preferred to be done for the day. One of them might have even gotten comfortable peeing in the woods. I won’t name which one for now, until I need a trump card to threaten.
And they found the joy of secret surprises. One example was the foot-long rice krispy treat I pulled out for the last leg. A 0.2-mile first leg required 45 minutes. After the treat, that same leg took 15 minutes even though we’d been hiking for over five hours. Instead of going home and making dinner, they learned the pure joy of chowing down on après hike pub food, getting a kick out of sitting higher off the ground at pub tables.
|Finish strong, girls! Finish strong!|
So, I have no doubt there will be complaints, whines, and grumblings. But I think this was an experience that will be a springboard into others next year, making it everything I hoped it would be. And as I stood behind Sydney, Sarah, and Sara, watching them snack and admire the view of the distant mountains; or as I watched Sarah leaning backwards into Sara, establishing a casual connection; or watching Sydney cut me off to nimbly tip-toe across a rock, risking wet feet if she fell into a puddle on either side in order to be the one to show the way, I felt that, as a person and a father, today was a remarkable day.
For my last hike of the year, it’s hard to argue with a day like this.
See you on the trail,
Jay Bell, AKA Rock Hopper
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Hike #10: Carter Dome, Wildcat, Wildcat D Peak
Elevation: 4,832 (Carter Dome), 4,422 (Wildcat), 4,050 (Wildcat D Peak)
Date: September 14-15, 2013
Location: Coos County, NH
Distance: 13.7 miles over two days
Time: 12:11 (53:21/mile)
It’s not often that I go off into the middle of nowhere to walk for hours and find that the most memorable aspect of the experience is the vibe, but that’s exactly what this hike was all about.
Sara and I headed into New Hampshire’s Carter Notch, a tucked away part of the woods, nestled against the Maine border. It’s not as popular as its brethren, Franconia, Pinkham, or Crawford, which are more accessible. It’s also been a somewhat-overlooked notch for well over a century. But it’s home to some peaks, a leg of the Appalachian Trail, and some great Appalachian Mountain Club trails.
|Working our way up to Carter Notch|
|Enjoying the view of Wildcat|
But after three miles and three hours, we’d arrived at the Carter Notch hut. It’s one of the smaller huts that AMC operates, with room for forty people. Unlike some others, this has bunkhouses and a main building. Carter Notch has maintained a hut for well over a hundred years, making it the oldest in the system. Early ones appear to go back to 1853, but the current one was built after fire destroyed its predecessor in 1914, and has been modified since. Renovations have also continued to go on to the property. As such, we found ourselves in one of the two bunkhouses in great condition that had four rooms. Our room had two bunk beds, which meant we had the room to ourselves. There’s something about any version of “roughing it” or being without things you normally take for granted, that makes anything unexpectedly good extra exciting. So, having a room in which we know all the residents was grounds for celebration.
|Looking down on the Carter Notch huts |
while ascending to the Carter Dome peak
It was brief, though, as we hadn’t stood atop a mountain yet. So we quickly dropped the thirty-pound bags for small ones that could hold the essentials. The Carter Notch hut is tucked in a saddle between the peaks of Wildcat and Carter Dome, both over 4,000 feet of elevation and looming on either side of us. So at about 3,300 feet of elevation, the hut left us with some serious climbing to do. We headed out and worked hard over the next hour to reach Carter Dome’s summit, which lacked any view. But a couple of points along the way allowed us to look down on the hut, the small pond adjacent to it, and Wildcat beyond it. Fog was rolling in, adding to the feeling of intimacy.
When everyone returned to their rooms around 8:00 p.m., the sun had long since set. A partial moon was visible, with frequent wisps of fog racing past it and the steep mountain walls hulking in the shadows below. We spent the rest of the evening chatting and reading highlights of a trail book from the lodge. I was tired, but wired from the festiveness. 9:30 is lights-out time, which was the only sad part of my day. Given that I fell asleep within minutes, I guess it was for the best. Although the hut is said to be haunted by Red Mac, an early caretaker who was a key player in stringing together the AMC huts, much the way they’re used and located today, he didn’t bother me. Should his spirit remain, it would seem to be because of his love for the area and the mission of the hut, so I guess if I saw him it would’ve been as he pulled another wool blanket over me instead of trying to scare the bejeezus out of me.
|Reflection of Wildcat|
The next morning dawned chilly and clear, and I watched the colors of the sky changing. By the time the sun climbed high enough above Carter Dome to be visible it was too high to be spectacular. But I’d had my quiet moments to watch the sunrise hues and my breath as I sat on the deck in the crisp air for a bit. When we piled into the lodge for a 7:00 a.m. breakfast, we found everyone’s moods unchanged. The decibel level, the smiles, the excitement at the food were all still very much in evidence. The enthusiastic debate regarding whether or not the delicious seasoning for the hash browns was the leftover semi-coagulated meat juice and the etiquette tips they delivered via a modified version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail provided the rest of the partially-planned morning theater.
|Looking at Carter Dome from Wildcat D's summit|
We were back on the Wildcat Ridge trail at 8:00, having written final notes in their logbook. We hadn’t covered a tenth of a mile in our planned 5.26-mile hike out before we passed that same small pond we’d passed and spied the day before. But the glorious Fall day seemed to make Wildcat’s trees more colorful, and they reflected beautifully off the pond’s still surface. Wildcat’s up-and-down trail quickly forced us to lose the view of the water, but replaced it with a number of views of a number of mountains, including several Carter peaks, Mount Hight, and the Presidentials. We drifted through varied terrain: birch forests, moss-covered rocky sections, stands of scraggly pines only seen at higher elevations, washouts and tiny waterfalls, rocky areas needing hands as much as feet, and water-prone sections with planks to keep feet dry and the environment protected. The rolling trail meant none of us ever got too tired or sore from climbing or descending, and when we stopped for lunch we found ourselves at the Wildcat ski area on an observation deck, having cheese and crackers and homemade banana break as we admired Mount Washington and recounted more hiking stories.
|Admiring the Presidential Range from Wildcat|
Because of limitations on bodies and time, we changed our route and hiked down ski trails. But they afforded amazing and varied views as we wound our way down the mountain. Although Pete and I had a final couple of miles to hike along the road, putting us closer to eight miles in total while Sara and Melissa sat in the shade awaiting our chivalrous return, it provided a final chance to process the hike.
|Hiking Wildcat's ski trails|
See you on the trails,
Jay, AKA RockHopper