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I have a bunch of "frequent flyer" miles accumulated over the years. With the airlines threatening to change the rules and "expiring" the miles, I decided to make use of a bunch of United miles to head for New England (gotta go the greatest distance for the miles needed). Besides which, it has been years since I have enjoyed the fall colors, and I wanted to visit Our Esteemed Owners and Editor of Trailspace in their home territory. Besides, this would be a good way to add to my training for my December return to Antarctica.
So I got on line, went through the process, and ended up with a “free” round trip ticket for Boston and a reserved Hertzacar. Ummm, wait a minute! Not quite free! United charges for checked bags - and I needed a tent, cook gear, sleeping bag, etc etc. And the car would need gas. And I would have to stay a few places. Well, it would be cheaper than having to buy all those things separately.
One worry was the question of a stove and fuel. Dave (the techie half of the Trailspace ownership team) pointed me to the latest TSA regulations, which said that stoves which pass the "sniff" test can now go in carry-on or checked luggage (take that, Alaska Air, confiscator of stoves even in their shrinkwrap!). Dave also said that he had a few partial canisters of Bleuet (Camping Gaz) fuel that would fit my MSR SuperFly (the SuperFly is the only stove that naturally takes both the industry standard threaded canisters and the non-threaded Gaz canisters). Problem solved!
Next question was the weather - do I prepare for Indian Summer (can be 90/90 weather even in September in New England)? Or do I prepare for an early snowfall? Or cold drizzly rain? New England is notorious for changeable weather (as the saying goes, if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes - it will change). So I prepared for the full range of weather (and indeed got it!).
On a Friday morning, Barb played taxi driver and dropped me at San Francisco International, then headed for work (someone has to pay for my peregrinations, even when the air fare is free). TSA was very friendly, though they did ask if that red pack (an Osprey Mutant summit pack) was mine (was it the big load of batteries, the stove, or... oops! I forgot the nail clippers and the big tube of toothpaste were in the pack - but they let me get away with it). Having used the on-line check-in and pre-paid my $23 fee for one checked bag (after discount), I sat around the boarding area, taking advantage of the free wifi service to make sarcastic postings on Trailspace. Wait! What do you mean, I only get 45 minutes of "free" wifi, then have to pay?
Finally, the cattle call came and I got on board, only sharing my row with one other person for the 5h30m in the air, arriving in the dark. Hertz came by in their bus to shuttle me to the parking area, where my luxury (subcompact) awaited. I was in too much of a hurry to plug Susan in (that's the voice on my TomTom), hence managed to miss the exit in the Ted Williams Tunnel in the underground maze that resulted from the Big Dig. After a bit of a detour and paying a couple tolls, I got on old familiar Storrow Drive (much the same as when I lived in Boston) and made it to my temporary stop for the night.
Next morning after a hasty breakfast, I headed toward Maine, paying tolls along the way. I found the correct exit easily, and Susan guided me right to the MacLeay's doorstep a few miles from Augusta, where I was greeted by a hyperactive Burke and gorgeous little Adelle. The MacLeays are in the midst of refurbishing a beautiful Colonial, which involves removing a century's worth of lead paint (the traditional paint used for well over a century everywhere in the world). Alicia and Dave both emphasized that I was to drink water only from the filtered tap, unless I preferred the "glow in the dark" water from the other tap. No, it isn't from nuclear waste - granite, the main rock that underlies most of New England naturally contains a lot of uranium and other radioactive minerals. So well water there is slightly radioactive (Alicia posted some notes on this on Trailspace a year or two back).
Later in the afternoon, the 5 of us got in the car and drove to a nearby trail that led to a gorgeous overlook. This was the first of many triggers of fond memories of beautiful hikes and scenic areas from when Barb and I lived in New England.
Alicia and Burke point out the sights near their house
After the young ones got tucked in bed, the older folk spent hours late into the evening discussing how Trailspace will save the world from itself. Finally the Old GreyBearded One was about to pass out, despite being on West Coast Local Body Time, and having a long drive ahead on the morrow, hence retired to the guest room.
The morning was greeted with a pair of deer wandering in the MacLeays’ back yard, a common occurrence they assured me. Then I was off on back roads (a Maine “shortcut”) to get to Baxter State Park, with a stop for some supplies. On entering the Park, I was told to fork over a bunch of bucks - $14 just to get in as an out-of-stater, plus $30 per night for the camping, for a total of $74 for the two nights of camping! Oh, and by the way, there is no potable water, so you will have to pump from the stream at Roaring Brook Campground or drive back to “town” and buy bottled water. Well, the campsite was a walk-in, the farthest one out, meaning it was beautiful, quiet and peaceful. One of the rangers asked me during my stay if I had seen the moose that was frequenting that campsite. Ummmm, no, I didn’t see it.
In setting up my tent (my 12 year old Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight that is small and light, but rarely used), I discovered that the bungee cords in the poles no longer “bungeed). This complicated setting up the tent (which has to be staked out and is not “free-standing). I ended up just stuffing the excess cord into the poles.
Early the next morning, after a quick breakfast, I signed out at the trailhead for the ascent of Katahdin, the highest point in the state of Maine. At first I made fairly rapid progress. But I was soon reminded of the difference between New England mountain trails and those in the Rockies and the Sierra. Where western trails are nicely graded and fairly smooth, with lots of switchbacks to keep the climb gradual, New England trails tend to go straight up the mountainside and to have lots of “rocks and roots”. The explanation is that trails in the Eastern US were set on foot, taking the straightest path, where trails in the West were generally first set on horseback and with pack animals. The animals need a more gradual grade, hence the switchbacks. One side effect is that in the heavy rains on the East Coast, the straight trails allow the water to run unimpeded, causing a lot of erosion and exposing the rocks and the roots of the trees. The western trails, being graded and more gradually sloped have lots of water bars and other erosion-reducing features, hence are easier and faster to hike.
By the time I got to Chimney Pond, I realized that my speed was much below my more typical hiking speed and that I should cut off one side loop that Dave had recommended. The ranger at the Chimney Pond station (a fellow with a thick Down-East accent) suggested going up the slide directly to the Saddle, especially since I was planning to cross the Knife Edge. I signed out again, with the route change noted (I had a SPOT 2 along, making my track available to Barb and Young Son a continent and a half-continent away, respectively). From the top of the slide, the trail to the top of Katahdin was pretty gentle, giving me 3h54m for the 5.58 miles from the campground to the summit. That’s only 1.42 mph. The altitude gain is about 3800 ft from Roaring Brook Campground to the summit, or 966 ft/hour. The traditional rule of thumb is 2 mph plus 1 hour/1000 ft, which would give about 6.6 hours. Well, maybe I have an excuse. I spent some time talking to the ranger at Chimney Pond, plus I had an interesting encounter with a blind thru-hiker shortly before Chimney Pond. He and his companion had just completed the full Appalachian Trail (the northern terminus is the summit of Katahdin) in six and a half months – another one of those humbling experiences I seem to get so often. Here I am, hale, hearty, and whole, and these “handicapped” people are doing things I only dream about.
As I stood on the summit, reading the sign, I looked around to see the only other person up there, standing at a respectful distance of perhaps 40 feet. He asked if I was a thru-hiker, and said he wanted to give me a few moments by myself at the summit if I was. I assured him that no, I had just come up, then stepped aside, since he was a thru-hiker and had just completed his journey of some 2000 miles. He walked up to the sign and laid his head down on it, then turned to me and asked if I would take his picture in just that pose, to capture him as he had arrived at the completion of his journey. I did so, but I swear he was actually floating about 3 feet above the summit in his elation and joy at completing the journey. I congratulated him, then handed him a small bite-sized piece of gold-wrapped chocolate as a symbolic gold medal. To my surprise, he took it, not as a light joke, but as a serious “Miracle of the AT”. Again, one of those accomplishments I only dream of doing.
After eating a bite of lunch, I headed for the South Peak (and the EarthCache that is there), then across the Knife Edge. A short distance along the Knife Edge, I encountered Chris coming the other way. Chris is a ski patroller from Mammoth Lakes, CA, and an avid High Pointer. As we chatted, I noted that I had forgotten my camera until I was a bit more than a mile from the campground. So he took a couple photos of me.
Then I continued across the ridge, encountering and passing people in various states of panic at the “narrow” ridge that was “only a foot wide” (try 5 to 10 feet wide, though there was one ledge to walk along that was about 3 feet wide – with good handholds if you needed a “railing”). It did get a bit breezy (I measured 20-30 knot winds with my Kestrel at one point). There was one man clinging to the rocks, apparently in real terror, though the rest of his family was reassuring him. After passing over the top of Chimney Peak, I encountered a group coming the other way, arguing over the grade of the section they had just come up. One of their group insisted it was “at least 3rd class”. As I descended it, I did use a couple handholds, plus a couple handholds going up the other side of the notch on Pamola Peak – maybe barely 2nd class, but definitely not 3rd.
From the top of Pamola, it was down the Hellon trail (pronounced “heel-on”). I finally got down 9h43m after setting out, for the 9.8 miles round trip. Way too slow, even if I did spend time talking to folks on top, on the way up, and on the way down. I also consumed the full 2 liters of water I took with me (yeah, I know, that’s less than I have recommended for people to take on such hikes).
After a good night’s sleep, I headed across Maine and New Hampshire for Smuggler’s Notch State Park, near Stowe, VT. I did not stop to hike up Mt. Washington, since Barb and I had done that several times by different routes and different seasons when we live in Boston in the 1970s. My intent was to hike up Mt. Mansfield, the High Point of Vermont. Along the way, the fall colors were starting to come out. So I stopped a couple places along the way to take some pictures.
Two views in the Mt. Washington Valley
That drive, on secondary roads for most of the drive, reminded me of things I miss about New England. Even though rural Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and upstate New York are rural, there are still houses, small villages, and farms all along the way. The life is unhurried and the countryside beautiful, lacking the clutter of the crowded cities. The landscape is in some sense a jungle, compared to the open forests of the West, though not the swampy jungles and bayous of the Deep South where Barb and I lived for 10 years.
Thanks to the miracle (and curse) of modern electronics (the internet and cellular phones), you can live as the MacLeays do in a beautiful rural setting and still maintain contact with much of the world instantaneously. Look out the window and you see deer, raccoons, porcupines, and myriad species of birds. Although the closest store seems to be a Mom and Pop place, large groceries and hardware supply stores are hardly any farther than where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, a major metropolitan center. But I will note that there are a plethora of antique shops, selling the dismembered remnants of old abandoned houses. There are many more of these than we have out West.
As I got into Vermont, Susan insisted on keeping me on the rural roads, picking a route to the Smugglers Notch State Park that I instinctively knew was longer. So I disregarded her instructions and took what I suspected to be a shorter route, cutting south toward Stowe and then via some back roads to the ski area. Susan kept telling me to turn around. But soon enough, I came upon the park entrance. After calling for a rerouting, I discovered that the map database apparently thought that a section of road that is generally closed in winter was permanently closed – TomTom, ya gotta get your database map straightened out!
The ranger gave me my choice of a dozen campsites, since things aren’t very busy in late September. This time, as I set up the tent, I pulled the end plugs out of the tent poles and shortened the bungees so they would keep the poles assembled with the remaining elasticity.
The morning dawned with overcast skies and a threat of rain. So I packed quickly to keep the tent dry and headed for the trailhead where the Long Trail crosses the road. There were only a couple cars there before me. I set out in the increasing wind and light drizzle, again on a “rocks and roots” trail that did do a little contouring in some places, but otherwise set out straight up the slope. I was a bit perturbed by my slow progress when a runner clad only in shorts, singlet, and trail running shoes sped past me on the way up, seemingly unperturbed by the rain. From time to time, the rain was a moderate shower. After 2h23m, I stood on top alone for a while, then was joined by two other hikers, both attired in full rain suits. As they leaned into the 30-35 knot wind (again measured on my Kestrel), I took a few photos of myself, then asked one of them to photograph me. You can get some idea of the view (or rather lack thereof) in the mist and the strength of the wind from my eVent jacket (a Wild Things hardshell). The hike up was 2.5 miles and a gain of 2700 feet.
Note that in the photo I am standing on rocks, rather than the krumholtz (the alpine vegetation found above treeline in the mountains of New England. The string marks the boundary of the general area that one is to walk on, though at this point, there was only one string (where is the other boundary?)
After a few minutes, I headed down to the car. As I put the pack in the car and prepared to head for Mt. Marcy, a car pulled into the parking area and a young lady alighted, attired for a marathon on a summer day, and asked where the Long Trail was. I pointed her to the trailhead and suggested that it was a bit cold and drizzly, especially on top. Her reply was that this was ok, since she would be running the whole distance and shouldn’t take more than 30-40 minutes round trip. I was still wearing my eVent hardshell and Nano-Puff jacket, getting ready to get into the rent-a-car and turn the heater on full.
The weather appearied worrisome, and the weather report I could get on my Blackberry (modern electronics intrudes once again!) looked like a 50% chance of rain at Lake Placid for the next few days. So I sent an email to Young Son (my personal Professional Atmospheric Scientist) requesting a custom weather forecast. I headed for Lake Champlain and the ferry to New York. The shortest route seemed to be to head for Burlington. But on arriving at the ferry (after driving through the University of Vermont campus), the ticket person informed me that the next ferry was scheduled for 3 hours later. However, she suggested I drive south to the Exeter ferry, departing in about 45 minutes, and half the price ($9.50, cash only). I took the suggestion, arriving with about 10 minutes to spare.
As I rode the ferry across, my custom weather report arrived with the news that the weather system was pretty unstable, but should move northward, giving me clear skies the next day, with a 20% chance of rain in the Lake Placid area (and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks) starting a 5PM, probably shifting to later in the evening. The following day would see the system shifting back south, with the rain probability going up to 40%, again in the afternoon. So my best chance would be to go for it the next morning, no rest day.
I arrived at the Adirondack Loj, run by the Adirondack Mountain Club and inquired about a room (I wanted to avoid getting the tent wet). At $159 a night, I decided to pass, taking a leanto instead at $40 a night. Good grief! Camping in New England is really expensive! But at least, they had a shower for the campground.
I ran into Chris from Mammoth in the campground and we compared plans. He decided he too would head for Marcy first thing in the morning. I sorted my gear and food for the summit, not noticing that a small critter had gotten into my bag of gorp as I sat measuring it out in the leanto (I discovered this at the summit). Then I hit the sack early for my “alpine start”.
Just before dawn, I fixed breakfast, then carried my gear back to the car (not wanting to leave it in the open in the leanto), and set out on the trail. The Hoevenberg Trail was much better for the first part than either the Katahdin or Mansfield trails. I did discover a disadvantage of my Trailspace cap, though. The bill is fairly long and sharply curved, providing great shade on a sunny day. But, this resulted in my missing several trail signs placed about 10-12 feet up on trees (to be out of the snow for backcountry skiers in winter). Thus I took one short excursion on a trail headed toward another peak and followed a steeper and harder trail that paralleled and rejoined the Hoevenberg later.
Nonetheless, I did pass a number of other hikers, though Chris caught and passed me fairly early on. I also stopped in the first mile to watch a beaver gathering its winter supply of food in a pond next to the trail.
Chris kindly took my photo just below the summit. I’m not sure why I look so fat in this photo, though it may be partly because I had the waist-belt on the pack cinched tight and several layers of shirt on.
The 7.06 miles I hiked trailhead to the summit took 5h3m, with a 3030 foot gain in altitude. By comparison to the other summits, Marcy, the High Point of New York State, was crowded. Many of the people had come up other trails. As noted, it was here that I discovered that a mouse or other critter had snitched some of my triple-bagged gorp, though it had not touched any of my other lunch food. After a bit of time on the summit, I headed back to camp. On arriving there, I ran into Chris again, who informed me that the Loj offers a buffet breakfast for campers and hikers for just $8 – reservations required the night before. So I made my reservations.
Next morning, I was up and packed, then headed for the Loj and breakfast. I soon was on the road, headed south, with Susan providing excellent directions to Pittsfield, MA, to spend the night and visit Mt. Greylock, the High Point of Massachusetts. That late in the trip, I wanted to keep the tent and other gear dry and to repack in anticipation of the flight home. So I checked in to a Travelodge (note to self: avoid Travelodges – they are poorly maintained, expensive for what they provide, and in bad locations). They had a strange and disturbing procedure for check-in. The desk lady insisted on making a photocopy of my drivers license and credit card, then left the paper lying on the desk in full sight of anyone who might walk in. When I objected to this procedure, she claimed that it was required by law. She then proceeded to enter all the data (including full credit card number) into her computer, along with other information she insisted on having (at least she didn’t ask for Social Security Number and mother’s maiden name). Needless to say, I am keeping a close watch on my credit card accounts.
After checking in, I drove to Mt. Greylock and visited the war memorial on the summit. The Appalachian Trail crosses Greylock on its way from Georgia to Maine.
After a fairly good night’s sleep I headed south through the Berkshires for Connecticut. Again the drive through the Berkshires brought back many nostalgic memories of Barb’s and my time in Massachusetts, with hikes in the hills and many summer concerts at Tanglewood near Lenox. One thing about being a university professor (which I was at that time, at Boston University) and a patron of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is that there are special receptions where one can meet the young promising musicians who perform during the Berkshire Music Festivals each summer. One of those we met briefly was Michael Tilson Thomas, now the Director of the San Francisco Symphony, here in my present back yard (I am sure he would not remember us – that was 40 years ago, and only for a brief moment).
Again, I traversed the secondary roads, now with the fall colors more developed, to Salisbury, then on to Mt Riga Road until turning onto the Mt Washington Road, on dirt for the last 7 or 8 miles. I parked just down from the State Line on the Connecticut side. I recognized Chris’ rental car, so he had arrived before me. The trail was a short one, only a bit over a mile to the summit of Mt. Frissell, then due south to where the stateline post was located. It turns out that the High Point of Connecticut is located on a trail that is climbing up into Massachusetts at 2380 ft. The highest peak is Bear Mountain, just a short distance away, at 2316 feet.
I talked with Chris briefly. He had decided that since the New Jersey High Point was only 100 miles away, he would head there before heading for the Rhode Island High Point. Since I still had some repacking to do and some things to see in the Boston area, I had already decided to head directly to Jerimoth Hill, the Rhode Island High Point. But there was time to shoot some photos of the fall colors.
The drive across Connecticut was again on secondary roads, though it did involve a bit of travel on the maze of freeways in Hartford. Outside the city, again, I was in the mostly peaceful and beautiful rural New England. Just 0.8 miles across the Rhode Island border, I spotted a little, temporary sign noting the trail to Jerimoth Hill. So I parked and hiked the short distance to the clearing and the rock with a cairn that marked the 812 foot elevation of the High Point. The land itself is owned by Brown University and had been used for an observatory at one time. It is important when going from the road to the high point to stay off private property (there are plenty of signs posted).
From here, I headed back to my original motel to repack and get a good night’s rest. The next morning, I asked Susan to direct me to Walden Pond to pay homage to one of my chief “saints”, Henry David Thoreau. In the almost 4 decades since I last visited here, the State of Taxachussetts (as it continues to be known by the residents) has made some major improvements by reducing the commercial nature that Walden had taken on. Still, there was the official parking lot with a large parking fee (going to a good cause, maintenance of the reservation). I first walked to the statue of Thoreau and the replica of the cabin in which he had spent 2 years and made the notes that became his most famous book, On Walden Pond. This slim volume is required reading for all who wander the woods.
The statue is supposed to be Thoreau’s height. Even though I knew he was short by today’s standards, he was about average height for most men of that era, about five and a half feet tall. Because Thoreau wrote an explicit and detailed description of the construction of the cabin, the replica is very accurate, as are the furnishings.
Interior of Thoreau's Cabin
I then crossed the road into the main part of the reservation and hiked to the original cabin site. For years, there was controversy over the exact location. Then in the late 1930s, an archaeological dig found the hearth and chimney base. The original location is now marked as shown in the photo.
I continued my walk around Walden Pond, completing the circuit and then walking along some of the other paths. By this time, it was getting close to lunchtime, so it was off to where we had lived in Arlington while I was a professor at Boston University.
While we lived there, there was a big move to return the name of the town to the original name, Menotomy, an Algonquin name meaning “swift running water.” This turned into a bitter political fight that divided the town. Historically, Arlington was one of the main gathering places for the Minutemen when the British started their march toward Lexington and Concord, the next two towns out from Boston. Having grown up on a reservation in Arizona, I thought the Algonquin name was appropriate. But the faction wanting to retain the name ridiculed it as “Monotony” – they won, of course, and it remains Arlington. My main objective was to stop by Olympic Pizza, where we had eaten the best submarine sandwiches we have ever had, just to see if they were still as good. Alas, like all good things, ownership had changed in the 36 years since we moved, and economies have been made. The bread was no longer the crusty Italian bread, baked right on the spot, and the sausages are no longer sliced before your very eyes, but pulled out of a pre-sliced package. Well, it was worth a try.
Then back to the motel for a last night and some adjustments to the packing, making sure no “forbidden items” were in my carry-on. After a quick breakfast at the IHOP next to the motel (why does IHOP even claim they make good pancakes?), Susan directed me back to the Hertz rental return. Then I spent a couple hours using the free wifi in Boston Logan Airport to post more sarcastic remarks on Trailspace while sitting in a genuine Shaker rocking chair (don’t see that in any other airports!).
The TSA X-ray guy asked me if I was a ham radio operator (he spotted my handytalky as he Xrayed my pack), and gave his call sign. I replied, “Yes, I’m NA5P”. We both grinned ear to ear, as he wished me a good journey. Soon I was on my way on a long, but smooth flight back to SFO, where Barb picked me up promptly (you can track flights on the Web in real time these days) after I picked up my checked bag from the carousel that Young Son had emailed me before the airplane attendants even had the number. Then again, if I hadn’t had the noise-cancelling headphones on, it could have been worse – the two kids in the seat in front of me screamed their heads off for the full 5+ hours of the flight. Thanks to another modern electronic miracle, I could barely hear them.