Monday, December 23, 2013

North South Trail - Hazard Road to Place Farm

Date Unknown, 2012

It's time I caught up with my hiking habit. This is pathetic.

Sometime in 2012, the troop hiked Hazard Road to Nicholas Road on the North South trail. I remember little of it. I remember one boy managed to kick himself near the beginning and complained loudly the whole way. I remember another boy decided he couldn't finish the hike and had to stop with an adult. A couple more thought that was a nice idea but I said NO!

One boy on the hike I was rather concerned about. He was grossly overweight and suffered from being tired much of the time. This I attributed to a terrible diet. He seemed quite a bit slimmer that day and didn't have too much trouble on the walk. I remember that his mom picked him up at Place Farm and that was the last time I saw him. I'd like to know that he turned his life around.

In a perfect world I would write my notes down the same weekend as the hike. Hasn't happened yet. This is the perfect example. When referencing my trail book I came to the conclusion I entirely forgot about a hike. As such, I don't have any clue when this particular one happened, but I thought it was late summer. Couldn't have been, but that's what I remember.

Let's see how the next year goes. If I still don't keep up, well, then the handwriting is on the wall. Unlike many hiking blogs I have followed over the years, I will say Goodbye when I conclude the experiment.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Word about Gear

This recent trip was my first backpacking journey and while I've spent a lot of time thinking about and researching gear, I knew there was no substitution to the education of trial and error. Here is what I used and how it performed. No links. I don't do advertising.

The Pack
I purchased a cheap Outdoor Products internal frame pack at Walmart. The model is Arrowhead 8.0 and I think the capacity is 65L. The model was being discontinued and it was deep discounted to something like $25. Nobody can argue with that price. It may not of had quite the capacity I needed and could use some easy to access pockets, but after inventory was exhausted the next cheapest pack was around $50. I found the option good enough and once I get a little smarter about packing, the size should be workable for a weekend trip.

Food and Cooking
Coleman makes a cheap, light, propane backpack stove. Walmart sells it for about $25. Coleman Max 3001 series. I brought along two 4-ounce propane containers. One was more than enough. It operated reliably. A JetBoil unit might boil a gallon of water in 40 seconds, but cost six times the price.

I purchased a Mountain House beef stew a while ago but never ended up eating it. It sat around. For about four years. So, I brought it along. The package was still air tight, so it was still good. The salt content meant it wouldn't ever go bad. It was terrible. A little beef would have made it better. Gonna try that Packit Gourmet stuff next time.

Breakfast was coffee and oatmeal. I do the same thing when car camping: one plain and one flavored packet of instant oatmeal into a snack zip top bag. Throw it into a bowl (generic stainless sierra cup) with some hot water, and voila: breakfast! This time I added extra raisins. It was perfect.

Coffee is more of a challenge. I measured enough grounds for 32 ounces of coffee (I was supplying for my brother-in-law) and put it into a snack baggie. I measured sugar and powdered creamer for 16 ounces into another baggie. I got a collapsible backpacking coffee maker a while back and never used it. The brand is GSI Outdoors. A quick test run in the kitchen and I was set to go. It worked reliably, was light, small, and a snap to clean. And it made good coffee.

One misstep I did was bringing a full sized boiling pot when I only needed 32 ounces for coffee, plus maybe six for oatmeal. The sucker I brought would have done 64 ounces without breathing hard. I did fill it with other gear when hiking, but still, total overkill. I'll find a better solution next time.

I decided at the last minute to get a water filter. I couldn't determine if there was potable water on the trail, so I ended up getting a Sawyer squeeze water filtration system. It was a little cheaper than the backpacking pump, smaller, and lighter. I didn't end up using it until Saturday and was lucky enough to have an experienced hiker show me how it works. It comes with three bags (16, 32, and 64 ounces) and a syringe for cleaning. All I needed was one bag plus the unit itself, but I didn't know and brought everything. It was easy to use if not all that speedy, and the water tasted great. Tap at the mountain top restaurant was terrible. Not sure how often I'll be using it outside of backpacking, but I really did need it. Raw stream water might have been safe, but also maybe not.

There are two things I splurged on. First is the sleeping pad. Old bones can't sleep on the hard, hard ground. I got an REI Stratus and if I were to complain about it at all, it was that it was a little narrow (20"). The rated weight is one pound four ounces and it packs rather small. It takes 30 breaths to fill. For car camping I have the option of bringing the large and heavy inflatable mattress and the large double-stroke pump, but I won't anymore. Now I'll bring something half the size of the pump, spend less time on set up and take down, and be more comfortable. I can't express how well this sucker performed.

Additionally, I brought the cheap fleece sleeping bag I use for summer camping. I was a little nervous because I didn't know how cold it might get in the mountains, but it was plenty warm. There are better options for sale, but I didn't need it. Not this time, anyhow.

A hikers most important piece of gear is his boots. I routinely hike in cheap sneakers and this time I wanted to change that. I splurged on an expensive pair at REI. I used them around the office for a week then took them on an extended day hike with the Boy Scout troop. They are Oboz mid height hikers and I paid somewhere in the $160 range. I have high arches and need shoes to match. They are rather comfortable and provided decent (not amazing) traction, but the bottoms are rather hard. After significant walking, the bottoms of my feet hurt. I'll call them a success but I will investigate inserts.

My hiking socks disappeared prior to the trip. I had a minor epidemic that week. They don't get used except for hikes and stay in my sock drawer the rest of the year. They escaped. I hiked in white athletic socks. They functioned.

Stuff I didn't need
I mentioned in the previous post that I carried a two pound bag of trail mix that I never opened. Lesson learned. I also got a 96 ounce nalgene cantene (their spelling, not mine) that the REI salesman talked me into. Never opened. Luckily it doesn't weigh much. Maybe I would have needed it if there was a potable tap at the campsite. Lastly, I wore one of those cheap paracord bracelets. Just in case I needed a length of rope. Never did, but it wasn't a bad idea. I wore it on my left with my watch and it kept resetting the time. That was a problem.

There are the nuts and bolts of my gear experience. Maybe interesting me to alone, but worthwhile putting on "paper" anyhow. Thank you for ... listening?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Backpacking trip, Mount Greylock, Massachusetts

I'm breaking from tradition. I have three hikes ahead of this one, but I wanted to get this sucker documented as soon as possible. In many ways, it was a life changing hike.

A backpacking trip has long been on the back of my mind. On a day hike a couple years ago with a buddy we stopped by a shelter in Pachaug Forest in Connecticut. Wouldn't it be cool to stay the night (actually, the shelter was trashed)? On Moosilauke we chatted at an AT shelter with some through hikers. It's a romantic thought. This spring I tossed out the idea of Mount Greylock in Massachusetts and it stuck. I have this thing about state highpoints.

Bro-in-law Mikey and I took Friday off from work. We got a late start anyhow, and because of biblical rain, drove rather slow. Lou and his buddies were about an hour and a half ahead of us, and despite the downpour, drove full speed. The rain stopped shortly before we arrived at the parking area.

We needed a few pointers, but we found our way to the trail. Cell reception isn't what it could be, so getting directional advice from the waiting party wasn't terribly easy. Never-the-less, we arrived at Bellows Pipe shelter. But not, however, after a more than grueling hike. Way more than the 1.5 miles it was advertised as. What made matters worse is that not all of my gear would fit in my bargain backpack. My brilliant idea of putting cans of beer into an insulated lunch bag didn't seem so great when I carried five pounds of suds in my hands.

The shelter wasn't in tip-top shape, but not quite the catastrophe we saw at Pachaug. It isn't used much by through hikers and more by recreational ATV people. Someone apparently needed the fire closer to the sleeping area so they built it inside the shelter. This left a sizable hole in the floor and the shelter that should easily fit six barely fit us five. Good thing ours was the only party.

While getting to know Lou's two friends, we heard a terrible crash in the distance. We turned to watch a large tree, maybe 16" diameter at chest height, crash to the ground in the distance. I stood in silence thinking what would have become of our shelter had it been beneath it (hint: kindling). Lou's party tucked in to sleep, but Mikey and I stayed up a bit to drink our beers and watch the humble fire.

Sleeping was poor. No longer raining, but humid and sticky. Plus, a mouse I saw running around earlier would check out our gear for easy eats. In doing so he would run across my legs and wake me up. I remembered a section in "A Walk in the Woods" about mice in AT shelters. I made coffee and oatmeal for breakfast.

The next leg took us to the peak. Along the way was a quarter mile walk to Robinson Point, a scenic overlook. It was mostly downhill from the main trail and the footing wasn't the best. The idea of hiking back up with packs didn't appeal to me. Lou and Brian went far ahead and the slower group, Mikey, Ken, and I, followed behind. We looked for footprints to make sure we were still trailing them. The overlook was nice. Made it all worthwhile, I don't know. But we did it, then returned to the trail.

The top of Greylock has a weird tower on top. I spent a moment or two looking at it, then searched for the USGS marker. It's a tradition. There is also a restaurant at the top, serving people who took the highway. I hit the men's room then placed my order. While my burger was cooking, the power went out. They didn't make an announcement. My food took a lot longer and everyone was finished eating before I got my undercooked, mediocre hamburger. Luckily I did hit the bathroom first, because they locked the doors as soon as the power was gone.

All of the doors, in fact. When we left we couldn't get back in. Good thing we didn't forget anything. No notice, so lots of people trying to get in and were confused. Here we parted company with Ken and Brian.

Ken and Brian had seen enough of the trail. They didn't hike, really at all, and didn't like the idea of spending another day hiking and another night sleeping out. This meant I had to take Lou home, which didn't present a problem. I like the time I spent with him, and an additional hour plus was ok.

So, lucky for us, there was an outside tap to fill our water bladders, and composting toilets to empty our ... well, you get the picture. The composting toilets were amazingly clean and the tap water was terrible. The next leg was rather long. We headed North to Mt. Williams and stop at Wilburs Clearing Shelter. Because we were at the highpoint, most of the hike was downhill.

Weather was perfect that afternoon and the trail conditions were wonderful. We stopped at on overlook on Williams and chatted with some through hikers. I'm sorry to say I forgot their names. The one on the right was named Toes, I think, and the one on the left maybe sticks. The middle guy did most of the talking. They all had this southern/surfer dude hybrid accent. Quite amusing. There was also a sobo (that's what us bona fide mountain men call south bound hikers) with his dog as well. We discussed important matters like smarties vs. jelly bellies, and the phenomenon that lady hikers know as trail bump.

We're not through hikers. Not even section hikers. But because we were backpacking, I felt the AT hikers were more willing to talk with us. There was an element of shared experience.

When we got to the shelter around 4:30, we were pleasantly surprised what wonderful condition it was in. Heavily used by AT hikers, they treat it with respect. The caretaker on duty, Saw Dog, shared it with us. Section hiker Too Much shared our fire.

This was the part of the hike why we did this. The weather was great, the hiking was easy, and we got to hang out with interesting people. We got a roaring fire and shared our eats. Too Much introduced us with a company called Packit Gourmet. He made a berry torte that was delicious, if more than a little complicated. The sleeping was wonderful. I dreamt of fanciful things.

Sunday morning we made breakfast, I filtered water from a stream, and made our way out. Programming note: when you plan a backpacking journey, make the last leg the shortest. Ours was the longest. Even though the pack was the lightest (beer was gone!) and the hike mostly downhill, it felt the most grueling.

On our way down Williams, I lost sight of Lou and Mikey. I was struggling more than a little. A knee injury from way back in January was bothering me anew. I heard them calling for me, but so long as I was on the trail, I would eventually meet up with them. Or so I would, had they not taking a side trail. Apparently they came across the site of an airplane crash. They showed me pictures of it. That would be cool to see. What would be uncool would be to walk back up the mountain. I decided I would need to satisfy myself with their pictures.

Then we came upon a fireplace from an old farm house. I was standing on some sort of structure to get this picture. Notice the top of the chimney lying on the ground to the right. That was kinda cool. not plane crash cool, but still.

We made our way to the highway near the park entrance and got a bit of a start. I heard someone yell, turned and saw a skate boarder race downhill at breakneck speed. Then three more screeched and turned into the parking lot. His buddy, last seen heading at break-neck speed down the mountain, was surely dead, I figured. The death-wishers were quickly followed by a van hand decorated with the phrase YOLO principally visible. They were excited about something. Maybe being alive. To my shock, their buddy returned from the grave seemingly unhurt. Remarkable. I wish I got a picture of them.

We entered a neighborhood (which was a strange feeling) before turning back onto the trail. I knew we crossed the river before we reached our Friday sleep spot. Every bridge we came to I wondered if this was great crossing. Apparently, the river doesn't cross the trail all at once, but instead in smaller side streams. Eventually we found Bellows Pipe shelter then headed down to the car. This took way longer than we expected.

At one point a great tree had fallen and obliterated the trail. We each picked our own route back to where were were supposed to be. It's a little disconcerting to go far from the trail. We crossed a day hiker heading up, which was unusual. Other than near the peak, we saw few if any other hikers.

Finally, we got to the car around 4:20 PM. Mikey had Chinese Buffet on his mind because the through hikers were talking about it (if there is anything near the trail that's "all you can eat", the hikers know about it!). I had pancakes on the brain and found a spot not too far away. Many places were closed on a Sunday. I'd like to say it was awesome, but we had issues with service. It served it's purpose.

Monday night I worked late past 11, my body fatigued and exhausted. Tuesday after work, I pulled off of the highway and drove Rolfe Street home. I remember that the previous fall there was a reflexology place, and I u-turned to look for it. It was still there. I walked into the tiny establishment to find it empty. A woman entered after me and I asked her how much. She picked up her cell phone. After a moment thinking how rude, she handed it to me. Confused, I spoke with a woman who gave me the details. $39 for a hour massage. "Can you take me now?" what the only question on my mind.

Here I had the best massage of my life. After the hike my shoulders hurt. My hips hurt. The soles of my feet, my toes, my left knee, my head, my just about everything. When she was done, only my knee hurt. As of this writing, it's been two weeks and the knee is only slightly better. I see the doctor in the morning.

Lessons learned: vodka, powdered juice mix, and filtered water is a way better idea than beer. Don't bring quite as much food (I had a 2-pound bag of trail mix I never opened - my boys demolished it the same day I got back). Spend more time with people who's company you enjoy. Get that Chinese massage you've been meaning to.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Yawgoog Pond

Thursday, July 12, 2012

There isn't a lot of adult leaders to do at Boy Scout camp. In the past I've done leader training to take up my time but there wasn't any for me to do this year. I had taken a hike with a buddy who lives not too far away, but he was unavailable this time. I was told for me to take a hike, I needed to register a tour permit, go with a buddy, and schedule it with the camp. I went to the office to see what they'd say and that was to just go. So I did. Don't have to ask me twice.

Yawgoog Pond, named after an Indian chief,  is a large fresh water pond of about 150 acres situated in western Rhode Island, near the Connecticut line. Between Yawgoog, neighboring Wincheck pond, and near by Long and Ell ponds, this is the best hiking in Rhode Island. I had been around Yawgoog with the troop a number of years back, but I wanted to go alone.

I found no adequate maps of the trail, but the trial is absurdly well marked. In fact, with so many side trails marked with very similar markings, it may be TOO well marked. I set off clockwise. I kept close watch on the time and used the sun's position to gauge my direction.

When the trail gets close to the Connecticut line it becomes the Narragansett Trail leg of the North South Trail, a 77 mile hiking path across Rhode Island. Readers will know I've done several legs with the Boy Scout Troop. Once there I discovered I had been walking south too long, so I turned around found my misturn.

Confident of my bearings and with ample time, I decided to see if I could locate Hidden Lake. I understood this to be a low, marshy area of no particular interest, but found that to be incorrect. Hidden Lake is a picturesque area encircled by dense forest. I crossed paths with a few people fishing.

I didn't take the opportunity to circle Hidden Pond, which I should have. Instead I headed back to Camp Yawgoog Road, along which are the camp's archery and rifle ranges. I followed the road back to the camp proper and got myself a snack at the 407.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mount Monadnock, NH

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Boy Scout troop planned a big hike. Stay at Camp Wanocksett and hike from there to the peak. I was really looking forward to it, but it was not to be. Scoutmaster came down with a stomach virus and had to cancel. This was last year. This spring, we went up.

Leaving early Saturday morning, we drove into beautiful New Hampshire. We got camp set, got the boys ready, and twelve scouts and four leaders headed off. We hiked roadside for about a mile before entering the park near Gilson Pond. We paid the fee and continued on our way. A short while later, before the going got tough, one of the adult leaders had to turn around. Fit as he was, his legs were not agreeing with the walk. He headed back to camp to help the other leaders who were getting dinner ready.

The trails on Monadnock are very well marked. We hiked together as a group for the most part and made fair time. The youngers in the bunch needed to know how much further on every third step. When the going got steep, they buckled down well. The occasional overlooks were well received. I know many in the group had never been on a walk like this.

The going gets roughest as we approach the summit. Monadnock's bald peak (maybe I am repeating myself) was not created by nature. It was burned in a forest fire about a hundred years ago. Nature is slowly recapturing it but there is time for an easy above the tree line hike for quite a few more generations.

I stopped periodically to take stock of our group. Once in sight of the peak, two scouts said they could not go on any further. These boys ventured far outside their comfort zone and I salute them. One leader agreed to stay behind, so ten scouts and the two remaining leaders brought the rest to the top. It's cold and windy, and the view isn't much better than some of the other overlooks, but it feels good to see the top.

The trek down was uneventful except for the water situation. It was hotter than expected and many scouts brought the bare minimum. We told them at least one liter and they brought exactly one. Plus, many of them guzzled it in the first hour of the walk. I emptied my camelbak into some of the boys and a young 18 year old leader produced quarts of gatorade from his backpack and shared it. Back at camp, they guzzled water, had dinner, and slept well. We went home in the morning.

I leave with one photo. It includes unrelated scouts, but I already put it on facebook, so what's the harm.