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Chocorua: The quiet-crowded-quiet hike October 25, 2008

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
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Hike distance 11 miles/Elevation gain 3200 feet

Bob and I are getting ingenious, I would even say diabolical, in our ability to cook up new approaches to our familiar old White Mountains.  This hike of October 11 took us up to the crowded summit of Mt. Chocorua on a beautiful fall day.  But on the approach and the descent we were almost alone.

We left the car at the tiny pine-needle-strewn Hammond Trail parking lot and set off on a jaunty road walk north along Route 16.  (If there needs to be a road walk, it’s nice to get it out of the way at the start of the hike.)  Here, as cars zoomed past, we saw our only wildlife of the day, a very large and fluffy fox standing in a driveway.  To our surprise, the gigantic Piper Trail parking area (the opposite end of the parking lot spectrum) was only half full.  It must have been a little on the early side, for we encountered just one other group as we headed up the trail.  Soon, however, we heard the voices of people calling out that they were lost—just five minutes away from the trailhead!  They had wandered off into the open woods in an area where, with leaves down on the trail, it was good to pay a tiny bit of attention.  We were thereby welcomed into the wonderful world of Mt. Chocorua, climbed by many random people, where funny and stupid things happen.

We left the Piper Trail after a mile for the steep Nickerson Ledge Trail, which connected us with the Carter Ledge Trail.  Here we found stately oak trees and stands of jack pine, both unusual in the Whites.  The trail became open and ledgy, and as we attacked the steep east side of the Third Sister, we came to the place described by Gene Daniell in the White Mountain Guide as a “particularly tricky scramble.”  It offered two options: a nice secure-looking crack on the right that was hard to reach, and a steeply sloping smooth ledge on the left with a dropoff.  I tried to get up into the crack, but the only way to do that would have been to wedge my knee into it, and that would have been uncomfortable besides being bad form.  (I remember these points of style from my brief and unsuccessful time of rock climbing.)  So it was over to the smooth ledge, which had just enough loose gravel on it to make it interesting.

After a stop for lunch on Middle Sister, where I ate half of my Irving convenience store sandwich, we plunged into the vortex of the summit.  Bob and I became tangled up in a large group of hikers in their 20s, and for no particular reason we all went faster and faster, leaping from boulder to boulder and squinting into the blinding sunlight.  On the summit it was cold and windy, and many hikers were peering into the colorful bowls of autumn foliage on all sides, then retreating for cover behind the ledges.  Heads popped up and down everywhere from behind rocks like gophers out of their holes.  Bob and I found a spot out of the wind and watched as a father and daughter strode purposefully in the wrong direction, toward the cliffy east side of the summit.  We explained that all the trails came off the summit on the opposite side.  In another direction we could see a pair of hands clinging to the edge of a boulder near a steep dropoff.  Eventually a fellow appeared on the other side of the boulder and explained to us that he had wimped out on his crux move: “I used to go that way all the time when I was younger.”

After a pleasant rest we continued along the Brook and Liberty Trails, losing more people at each trail junction, and finally descended in golden afternoon light through the big pines and oaks of the Hammond Trail.

The laurel grove on Mt. Holyoke October 24, 2008

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature.
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Hike distance 2 miles/Elevation gain 700 feet

Conglomerate rockWhenever I’m out in Northampton to visit my sister, I often do a short hike in the Holyoke Range.  I like to start at the parking lot where Rt. 47 nearly touches the Connecticut River and climb up the Conglomerate Rock Trail, which has no rock at all on it except for the single enormous and solitary boulder from which it gets its name.  The boulder is dark and melancholy, its surface as wrinkled as the hide of an elephant.

The trail comes out at the auto road near the Halfway House, and from there I can take the Halfway Trail to the summit or walk up the road to Taylor’s Notch and take the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in either direction.  On this gray, breezy day I walked up the road to the notch and then took the M-M Trail to the summit.  I was wearing a pair of clogs because I’d forgotten to throw my running shoes into the car when I drove out, but the soles seemed to cling nicely to the polished rocks and roots on the last stretch going up to the summit, so I was able to take the steep Halfway Trail down with no problem.  On the balcony of the summit house, a geology professor was giving a lecture to a group of huddled students with their sweatshirt hoods pulled over their heads.  They looked as though they were metamorphosing into miniature boulders.

In the woods below the Conglomerate Rock, the trail passes through a grove of the largest, oldest, gnarliest mountain laurels I have ever seen.  Some of them are more than 15 feet high with trunks six or eight inches in diameter.  I always think of central Mass. as a place of hemlock and laurel, but these are the best, the grandfathers of the laurel forest.  The leaves are mostly too far from the ground to look at, so what you are seeing is the massive twisting trunks that have intricate strips of peeling bark.  They speak of age, the kind of age that commands respect.  I would love to know how old they are.

Joyously running snowshoers October 21, 2008

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Uncategorized.
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My first post!  It will be a curmudgeonly one.   And, I must confess, there will be further curmudgeonliness in days and weeks to come.

Latest copy of L.L. Bean’s outdoor gear catalog shows a couple joyously bounding along in their snowshoes.  Similar bouncy people can be found on the REI website.  I first noticed this theme in advertising copy five or so years ago.  Two things wrong with this:

  • They are running on a packed surface on which snowshoes are not necessary.  If they were actually breaking through snow, they would not be running.
  • Judging by the size of the snowshoes, they are each carrying approximately five extra pounds of weight on their feet.  Five pounds of weight on the feet is much harder to manage than five extra pounds in a backpack.  They are not having fun.

Snowshoes are a wonderful invention that make it possible to go many places in winter, but breaking trail with snowshoes is very hard work.  Best thing is to go out with three or more people and take turns being out in front.  And try taking those snowshoes up a steep granite ledge!  (It can be done on the principle of “three grunts forward, two slithers back.”)

How many people have seen the pictures in the catalog and bought snowshoes that they only used once or twice?  How many fools have taken their snowshoes on cross-country touring centers and trudged along sadly as skiers happily glided past?  I knew it—it’s a conspiracy of snowshoe manufacturers!