Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Company Mill

Hike: Company Mill Loop
Location: William B Umstead State Park
Nearby Town: Raleigh, NC
Elevation (Max): 440'
Elevation Gained: 360'
Mileage: 5.8
Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: Take Exit 287 from I-40. Turn R if coming from the east (L if coming from the west) and you will quickly enter Umstead Park. Continue straight and you will enter a parking lot. From the entrance to the parking lot, the trailhead is in the far left corner.
Web Site: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/wium/main.php

In the middle of August, E and I decided to explore our nearby state park. It's a wonderfully convenient park for us, only an 8 minute drive away. We filled up our water bottles, and set off for Umstead intending to hike the Company Mill trail which I read about in 100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina. We arrived, picked up a map from the map board, and set off down the trail. Things started off well, the trail is easy to follow, and we quickly arrived at the bridge over Crabtree Creek (which just so happens to also flow behind our apartment, through our favorite city park in Cary, behind the mall in Raleigh--I'm pretty sure that creek is everywhere). After crossing the bridge, the loop begins. You can either go left or right; either way you will arrive back at the bridge. We went right which walks along the creek for a while before turning uphill into the woods. There are no overlooks in this hike, but it does feature a few nice ups and downs and varied terrain. My favorite part of the hike was the enormous loblolly pines, some of which were 10 or 12 feet in circumference. Continue straight when the trail crosses a packed gravel road, the trail on the other side of the road is not all that spectacular (more big trees, though) and will eventually loop you back to this road so if you want to take a short cut, instead of crossing the road, turn left on it, and turn left onto the return loop of the Company Mill trail. The return loop goes past the biggest tree I saw on the hike (and perhaps the biggest living tree I've seen outside of Yosemite), a nice patch of ferns, and then back across the bridge that spans Crabtree Creek. I did not take my camera on this hike, but below is a cell phone picture I took.

Crabtree Creek along Company Mill Trail

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


So, E, the fearless blogger on Peach & Pearl, has been doing something called '101 in 1001' over the past couple years. The idea is this, you write down 101 doable but significant goals that you intend to do in 1001 days, and then, you try to do them. E is approaching the end of her 1001 days, and is in the process of making a new 101 in 1001 so I joined in and made one for myself. She has her 101 in 1001 posted on her blog, and keeps her status on each goal up to date, and she encouraged me to put my list on my blog because "it is great for accountability." I agreed, but since this is a hiking blog, I will only post goals that are somehow related to hiking and save the other goals, such as making homemade pickles, for myself. My 1001 days officially began on March 1 which makes November 28, 2012 the finish line.

My goals are:

33. Submit to a photo contest
54. Maintain hiking log and blog
55. Hike another 100 miles (starting distance: 96.25 miles)
56. Buy new hiking boots (lighter, better fitting)
57. Buy new sleeping pad or tent
58. Go to Crabtree Creek in Umstead after a heavy rain when the creek is high
59. Go winter camping--in the snow
60. Traverse the American Tobacco Trail (can be in sections)
61. Bike the paved portion of the ATT with E
62. Backpack for three nights in a row or more
63. Kayak at least once per year
64. Camp in three seasons
65. Go on a Presidentials crew reunion hike each year
66. Summit a greater than 10,000 foot peak
67. Visit two of the following parks: Yosemite, Zion, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Tetons, Rocky Mountain, Bryce Canyon
70. Begin section-hiking the AT
76. Hike a southern bald
98. Walk every greenway that is a mile or longer in Morrisville, Cary, and Raleigh
100. Compete in a Backwoods Orienteering Klub race
101. Compete in a Great Urban Race

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bobbitt Hole

Hike: Bobbitt Hole/Cole Mill Circuit
Location: Eno River State Park (Eastern Portion)
Nearby Town: Durham, NC
Elevation (Max): 440'
Elevation Gained: 120'
Mileage: 2.85
Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: The area around Eno River State Park is highly developed which means there are as many ways of getting to the trailhead as there are directions from which to come, so I won't be able to provide the best directions. Below are the main approaches from different directions.

From the southeast (Raleigh, RDU Airport, Cary, RTP), take I-40 West, go North on the Durham Freeway (Hwy 147), take Exit 16A, turn L onto Rte 70 (Hillsborough Rd), turn R on Sparger Rd, turn L on Cole Mill Rd, turn L on Old Cole Mill Rd and follow to parking.

From the south (Chapel Hill), take 15/501 North, take Exit 108C-108D, turn L on Rte 70 (Hillsborough Rd), and follow the directions above.

From the west (Hillsborough, Burlington, Triad), take I-85 N, take Exit 170 onto Rte 70 Business East, turn L onto Sparger Rd, and follow the directions above.

Web Site: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/enri/main.php

Immediately after returning from Michigan, I departed for an island off the coast of Maine to vacation with E's family. After a few days up there, we returned to Connecticut, where we had about a week and a half at home before we set off on a new adventure--moving to North Carolina, where E had gotten a job. The drive was interesting, mostly because both E's dad (driving the Budget truck) and I were rear ended in a multi-car accident as we neared the apartment. Everyone was ok, but it was an interesting way to start this new chapter of our lives. Once we moved in, we began exploring our area. One of the first things I noticed was a stunning lack of hills and woods. The former we can blame on geology and is quite a change from hilly Connecticut. The latter is mostly due to the explosive growth the Research Triangle region has experienced in the last couple decades. In any event, finding good hikes within a short drive is a lot more difficult where we are in North Carolina than it was at home in Connecticut (or basically anywhere in New England--I'm more and more convinced that New England is closest to figuring out the ideal land use balance).

The Triangle has a couple things going for it in the hiking department, though. First, there are two large state parks near us; one each in Durham and Raleigh. Second, this area has a robust and growing system of greenways for non-motorized travel, which E and I really enjoy. Another thing going for the Triangle, though this is a bit of a stretch, is that the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are a 3-4 hour drive away. One of the first things E and I did in our new town was get library cards, and the first books I checked out were all something along the lines of "50 Hikes in the Triangle." I read through them, was left a bit underwhelmed, but decided to try out a few. The first hike we took was in Eno River State Park.

An important thing to keep in mind when going to Eno is that it is split into a Western and Eastern half. E and I wound up driving to a little pull-off where we couldn't find a trail, then we went to the Western side trailheads before we realized that none of the trails we were planning on taking were on the trail maps on the Western side. So we drove to the Eastern side. After parking at the end of Old Cole Mill Road we began our hike by going right on Cole Mill Trail. Basically from the first steps we took, we began to sweat profusely. It was, after all, the end of July in central North Carolina, and an abnormally hot day too. I brought one bottle of water for the hike and we ended up needing every drop. When we got to the junction of Cole Mill Trail and Bobbitt Hole Trail, we went straight onto Bobbitt Hole. The hiking was mostly shaded, which was good, except for a part where the trail crosses under power lines where the sun roasted us in the brief time it took us to cross through. After hiking a little while, we came to Bobbitt Hole Spur which is a small out and back trail from the Bobbit Hole Trail that goes to, yes, Bobbitt Hole.

The rock cascade and Bobbitt Hole

Here is how the trail map/guide we picked up in the parking lot describes Bobbitt Hole. "[It is] one of the most scenic and fascinating places in the river. The river drops into Bobbitt Hole over a short rock cascade from the south and leaves in a sharp 90 degree bend to the east. On the south bank, a rock outcropping stands sentinel over the hole which has been measured to 18 feet deep." After reading that, I was excitedly expecting some roaring white water and a clear deep pool with cliffs rising dramatically alongside. In reality, Bobbitt Hole has none of these things. The "cascade" is really just the river trickling through rocks before falling about a foot into the pool. I honestly cannot remember seeing a rock outcropping "standing sentinel." Least disappointing was Bobbitt Hole itself, which really did look deep, though it was far from clear. Three other hikers had the right idea on this hot day, though, as they were taking a dip in the Hole.

A slightly different view of Bobbitt Hole

E and I hung around there for a while to rest in the shade and relatively cooler air around the Hole. We then returned to Bobbitt Hole Trail going right (left would have returned us the way we came) which hugs the Eno River. Along the way, we switched off Bobbitt Hole onto Cole Mill which looped us back to the parking lot. Hiking along the Eno was pretty nice, it kept us cooler than we were on the approach to Bobbitt Hole, and we could see lots of fish in the river along the way. The verdict? Central North Carolina is a completely different sort of hiking experience than New England. It is more of a solitude, exercise, simple enjoyment of the outdoors brand of hiking compared to the striking beauty brand of hiking that is New England. Still, it is always nice to get out for a walk in the woods.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Hike: Sleeping Bear Dunes
Location: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Nearby Town: Glen Arbor, MI
Elevation (Max): 920'
Elevation Gained: ~600'
Mileage: 4.5
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: From the South: Take Rte 22 north until after Empire, then turn left onto Rte 109. Parking will be on the left (opposite Glen Lake). From the North: Take Rte 22 into Glen Arbor, where 22 intersects with Rte 109, stay straight to take 109 south. Parking will be on the right. The parking is very obvious from 109.
Fees: The NPS charges $10 per vehicle--so pack everyone in.
Website: http://www.nps.gov/slbe/index.htm

Shortly after returning from our Presidentials adventure, E and I went with my family out to Ohio for my cousin's wedding. It was so nice to be in that beautiful part of the country with family and warm, sunny weather (which we had been severely lacking in New England). After the wedding, my parents, aunts, E, and I went up to our family's clubhouse on Platte Lake in northern Michigan. Of course, as soon as we got to Platte Lake, a huge low pressure system parked itself over the Great Lakes and gave us delightful cold, windy, rainy weather for days. After about 4 days of relentless gray, the low finally moved away and blue sky and warmth returned, so we decided to hike the Sleeping Bear Dunes to take advantage of the first good weather of the trip.

A little background, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are impressive dune formations along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in northern Michigan. The dunes are short mounds in some areas, enormous bluffs in others, and always beautiful. One of my favorite activities is dune jumping, which is the art of climbing to the top of a steep dune, sprinting at full tilt back toward the edge, leaping as high and far as you can, momentarily fearing bodily harm is about to ensue before landing unharmed on the soft sand. It's quite a thrill and the Sleeping Bear Dunes provide some of the greatest opportunities I've come across (if you are going to try this, make sure the dune isn't so steep you will actually hurt yourself, and avoid dunes with rocks or pebbles as that would be very painful). The source of the name Sleeping Bear Dunes is an Indian legend of a forest fire on the western shore of Lake Michigan that forced a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake, from where their only option was to swim to the opposite shore. Sadly, the cubs were not strong enough to make the swim and lagged behind their mother who, when she reached the shore, waited on top of the bluffs for her cubs, but they drowned in the lake. The mother bear stayed and waited for her cubs, and the Great Spirit, impressed with her faith, created North and South Manitou Islands to memorialize her cubs, and the wind buried the sleeping mother bear under the sand dunes where she waits to this day.

The Climb featuring my parents

We began the hike with my parents under an overcast, but as soon as we ascended the first big climb, known logically as The Climb, the clouds broke apart revealing blue sky that reflected brilliantly off Glen Lake. Once we conquered The Climb, E and I made for Lake Michigan across the dunes. First we had to traverse the large, open, flat sand just above the Climb which is a popular place for football or frisbee. After that, we began hiking on a trail that involved lots of ups and downs, but nothing too big. The thing about hiking the dunes is that everything is more difficult than just looking at the elevation gain would indicate because every step is made in loose sand. After hiking the majority of the way to Lake Michigan, we found a nice place to go dune jumping so we climbed up, sprinted to the edge, and leaped as far and high as we could--always exhilarating. It was not long from there to the Lake which was a beautiful light blue.

The flat above The Climb

We made it to the Lake!

Beautiful Lake Michigan

From there, we headed south along the beach under the assumption that another trail would present itself that we could use to loop back to the start. Unfortunately, we never found another trail, and the dunes were turning into towering 300' bluffs. We found some footprints that ascended the bluffs so we decided to follow them on the chance it would lead to a trail instead of tracking back to where our trail had met the beach. Climbing loose sand and pebbles (some very large pebbles) is challenging especially when the sun is cooking the dunes. Eventually we got to the top of the dunes which provided an impressive view in all directions including down. At this point we had lost the foot prints because the top of the dune was more compacted so we just decided to head away from the Lake knowing that would get us back in the general area we wanted to be. After a while of tip toeing through prickly plants, we finally found a trail.

Big bluff

E climbing the big bluff

North and South Manitou

The dunes

Looking south to the bluffs at Empire

Climbing the super steep dune

While this was certainly a welcome change, it did not help with the fact that we did not know where we were. Also, we had lost some elevation so we no longer had a good vantage point for planning a route. So, we basically guessed which direction to go and went with it as long as it didn't feel terribly wrong. After what seemed an uncomfortably long while, we finally saw people, tiny little specks, walking along a ridge east of where we were. We began picking up the pace, since we assumed my parents had probably finished their hike by now, and met up with some other hikers. I asked one which way to go to the parking lot, but she did not speak English, so we just took a guess, and soon enough we started recognizing the surrounding terrain and came back to The Climb. We bounded down The Climb like we were walking on the moon, and were surprised to find my parents had not yet returned. We emptied our shoes of enormous piles of sand and opened a bag of Doritos to enjoy while we waited for my parents to return, which they did pretty soon (they had also gone out to the Lake). We all refreshed ourselves with some water, and then got in the car to take a scenic drive around the dunes including a stop for a picnic. It was a great day.

Glen Lake

A shot from our scenic drive

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Northern Presidentials Day Two

I will not include the rather lengthy technical/logistical details of this hike in this post, so if you are interested in those, refer back to the previous post on pre-planning and day one.

We left off in the previous post at about 6am the morning of day two. We got up, quickly packed up our bags, ate some granola bars, Cycleman and Coastie enjoyed some instant coffee, and we set off. We had climbed about 3,000' over 3.5 miles on day one, so we had another 2,700' or so to go to the summit of Mount Adams. Unfortunately, the path up from the Crag Camp, the Spur Trail, is noticeably steeper than Lowe's Path. It didn't help that none of us had fully woken up yet, either. On the way up, we came across a little trail that headed out to an overlook of King Ravine called Knight's Castle. We decided to check it out, and it was pretty cool, mainly because it provided us a view back to Crag Camp so we could get some perspective of how perfectly perched that place is on the ravine. Also, it was a rather encouraging sight since Crag Camp was much further away than we expected, so we were making good progress. We hung around at Knight's Castle briefly to shed layers and hydrate, and then we returned to Spur Trail. It wasn't much longer on the Spur Trail before we came across a sign posted by the US Forest Service welcoming us to the Alpine Zone and warning that "The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure even in the summer. Turn back NOW if the weather is bad." Well, luckily for us--truly lucky, as I mentioned earlier, the odds of us getting two back to back dry days were very slim--the sky was blue and the sun was shining. Even the undercast had broken up. We walked on, and indeed the trees began disappearing and were replaced by rocks, rocks and more rocks.

The view from Crag Camp at 6am with the undercast breaking up

The view back to Crag Camp from Knight's Castle

A warning: entering the Alpine zone

This part of the hike, the approach to Mount Adams above the treeline, was probably my favorite part of the trip. Something about being above the trees about as high as you can get in New England, with the sun shining, at about 7 in the morning is thoroughly satisfying. At this altitude, the trail blazes were replaced with cairns, large snow fields became common, and again, I cannot stress this enough, rocks prevailed. At this point in the hike, E and I began falling behind Jump, Coastie, and Cycleman. We were at a double disadvantage as E and I were carrying larger packs, but mostly we just weren't nearly as fit as they. Jump is a runner and now does CrossFit, Coastie is perhaps the most fit person I know, and Cycleman is, as you may have guessed, a cyclist extraordinaire. In recognition of their superior summitting abilities, E and I dubbed them the Mountain Goats. At some point, we had to switch off the Spur Trail to take a different trail to the summit of Mount Adams. Unfortunately, I cannot quite recall what trail that was (I am pretty confident it was Lowe's Path, but I'm not sure), but there are signs at the junctions that will direct you to the summit, and anyways, at this point, with no trees blocking the view, it should be easy to see which trail leads to Mount Adams' summit. As we began the final ascent, the trail markings became increasingly difficult to discern amongst the pile of rocks that is Mount Adams, so we may have been off the path occasionally, but with no vulnerable plants in this area, we weren't very concerned. After successfully navigating the rocks with our ankles intact, we reached the summit, which was...another pile of rocks.

A nice place to be at 8am (Spur Trail)

E rocking the Alpine zone

Mountain Goats

Rocks, rocks, rocks, and some snow

From the summit we had great views of Madison nearby to the north, Star Lake, which is a little pond on the ridge between Madison and Adams, Jefferson to the south, and the rather imposing, dark Mount Washington. We paused up there to drink, eat some granola bars/peanut butter crackers, take some photos, and rest. We had, after all, just bagged the second highest peak in New England. We encountered two annoyances on the peak of Mount Adams, however. First, and this just flabbergasted us, there are pesky mosquito-like bugs and bees that live on the peak. This just makes no sense to me especially because we encountered no bugs whatsoever in the hike up to and after that point. Of all the places bugs would thrive, the very top of an exposed, windy mountain with nothing but rocks, is just about the last place I would suspect. The only reason they are there, as opposed to having been blown down into the ravines, is the rockiness of Mount Adams that provides them little lees to hide in. They certainly did seem happy to have our company, though, much to our chagrin.

Star Lake and Mount Madison from Mount Adams summit

The group with Mount Washington in the background

Mount Washington

The other annoyance at the summit was a group of three hikers who came from Mount Madison. Now, I don't say they were annoying because I'm the type who prefers solitude on mountaintops (though generally I do, I am not as much a stickler for it as a lot of other hikers). In fact, they were mostly nice. I couldn't quite figure out the relationships, but there was an older man and an older woman with a younger man. Parents and son seemed obvious, but something about them made us feel like that may have not been the case. In any event, they offered to take our group photo and we talked a little with them. But then, the younger man saw me looking at my GPS, and said something to the effect of, "Ha, like you need a GPS on these trails...they're so hard to find," with a heavy dose of sarcasm.

First of all, I can clearly see the trails are obvious, but I like to take precautions. Second, the primary reason I am bringing the GPS is to record the trip to analyze and share later. Third, I'm sorry, but we just met, and I'd appreciate a little less sarcasm and a little more niceties from a stranger in this beautiful setting. That group set off down the trail we just ascended to head on to Mount Jefferson. Since they were going the same way we would be heading, we decided to hang out on Mount Adams for a bit to allow them to get ahead of us so we wouldn't have to overtake them later.

Mount Clay from Mount Adams with lots of snow patches

The descent of Mount Adams was far more treacherous for ankles than the ascent. On the plus side, E and I were able to bound down while the Mountain Goats, particularly Jump, were a little less sure of their footing. Apparently, E and I have excellent balance and sure footing going for us while the Mountain Goats have strength and endurance. E and I used the opportunity to build up a lead on the Mountain Goats (except Cycleman who went along with us) since we knew once we hit another ascent, the Mountain Goats would speed past us again. To continue on to Mount Jefferson, we took the Gulfside Trail, which is how the Appalachian Trail traverses the Presidentials.

Descending Mount Adams with Mount Jefferson ahead (the group of three is visible)

I am not exaggerating the rockiness

The clear blue sky with which we began the day started to give way to clouds, which at this altitude didn't go over us, but rather, we went through them. This led to a regular pause in our hiking to allow a member of our group, usually E, to either remove or add a layer of clothing because the sun made us quite warm but walking through a cloud was very chilling. Despite the lead we gave the group we met at the top of Mount Adams, we ended up passing them pretty quickly, and then we arrived at Edmunds Col which lies between Mount Adams and Mount Jefferson and overlooks the Great Gulf Wilderness which is the semi-enclosed area between Mounts Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. The view from there was pretty so we paused for a moment to take it in. I think perhaps E and I were further motivated to pause because from Edmunds Col, Mount Jefferson looms high above, and we were not looking forward to the climb ahead. As we left Edmunds Col, the trail began steepening a bit, and then we heard "whoa!" from Cycleman who had gone ahead a bit.

The Great Gulf Wilderness from Edmunds Col

Looking back to Mount Adams from Edmunds Col

As I climbed over a pile of rocks, thighs absolutely burning at this point, I saw what prompted Cycleman's exclamation--a huge pile of snow, directly in our path. This was a really cool sight for mid-June so we took pictures of ourselves in the path that had been carved through the eight foot deep snow. Also, and this turned out to be very lucky, the snowmelt had made some big puddles, which we used to replenish our water bottles (I'll talk more about gear in a future post, but my filter is the Katadyn Hiker PRO). It wouldn't be for many more miles through the most difficult part of the hike that we would again come upon a water source. As we left the snowfield, the group of three that we kept bumping into entered the snowfield and the younger man took off his pack, sat on it, and slid down the snow. I was truly concerned he was about to kill himself, but he was able to bail out of the slide before things got out of control. A very strange guy, indeed. Immediately out of the snow, the final ascent of Mount Jefferson began.

Big snow

E and I were growing exhausted, so while the Mountain Goats took the trail over the summit, E and I stayed on the Gulfside Trail which skirts around the peak. Even this relatively flat route was still pretty draining. Somewhere along the way between Mount Adams and Mount Jefferson, we really ran out of fuel, so we took a quick break and had a granola bar. That break really seemed to help, and as we rounded Jefferson, first we heard, then we saw, the Mountain Goats coming down the other side. Something kind of amazing up in those mountains is how well sound travels. They were probably a football field away, and we could clearly hear what they were saying. When we met up with them they told us we didn't miss much as the peak of Mount Jefferson was enveloped in a cloud. When we met back up we took a prolonged break at the trail junction to have lunch (mostly granola bars and peanut butter crackers). I really liked the look of this area, not really for striking beauty, but for how barren and Lord of the Rings-ish it looked with brown grass marked with prominent rock cairns. While we were taking our break a pair of guys passed by us, and judging by their pace, I'm guessing they were doing a Traverse, if not more.

Gulfside Trail on Mount Jefferson

Lunch break before everything went very wrong

Once we rested up, we continued onward to descend the southern slope of Jefferson's peak. The trail here, though plenty rocky, seemed a little easier than the hike from Adams to Jefferson. Our plan from here to the end was to hike around the west face of Mount Clay and descend via the Jewell Trail to the base of Mount Washington where we had parked one of our cars--about 3 or 4 miles. As we approached Mount Clay, which really did not look pleasant despite being shorter than both Jefferson and Adams, Coastie said, "So J, I have kind of a serious question." I expected a conversation about religion or future plans to ensue, but rather, he continued, "Are we hiking to my car?"

"Yes," I replied.

His response: "That could be a problem, because I think my keys are in your car."

Now, for those of you who have paid attention, we had parked Coastie's car at the end, packed into my car to drive to the trailhead, and left my car there. Our plan was then to basically hike from my car to his car. Instantly, the scene that clearly had just played through Coastie's mind began playing in mine. As we were packing up our gear to begin the hike, some people began handing me things that wouldn't be necessary on the hike to leave in the car, and one of the things I was handed, which I promptly stored in the car, was Coastie's car keys. That we both remembered this incident obviated the need for what would have been a furious search through his pack for those keys.

Luckily, this was a cool, calm, and collected group, so we didn't panic. We just started thinking about how best to get back to my car. One thing was sure: if at all possible, we would rather not hike back the way we came. We were pretty convinced there had to be a quicker and easier way down to the trailhead. I pulled out my map and we began looking for routes down. We eventually settled on hiking back a little ways to the south face of Mount Jefferson, taking a left to descend Mount Jefferson on the Caps Ridge Trail, and turning right onto The Link Trail which eventually hooks back up with Lowe's Path which we could take to my car. We had two main reasons for choosing this route. First, Caps Ridge Trail basically bombs down Mount Jefferson. Second, The Link appeared, based on our topographical map, to move northward to my car while hugging the side of Mount Jefferson without going up or down in elevation--the trail very rarely crossed between contour lines on the map.

And so, our revised plan commenced. We joined up with the Caps Ridge Trail, which should probably have been named Cliffs Drop Trail based on the number of enormous 50 foot high boulders we had to descend. When I saw Caps Ridge Trail on the map, I remembered a conversation I had with a salesman in North Cove Outfitters in Old Saybrook, CT. I told him I was going on a hike in the Presidentials, and he began telling me all about his adventures hiking up there. His favorite trail to ascend the mountains? The Caps Ridge Trail. After experiencing that trail, I'm convinced that man either sprouts wings and flies when he hikes or he is a masochist of the highest caliber. The numbers do a good job illustrating the intensity of Caps Ridge Trail. For the mile and a quarter that we were on the Caps Ridge Trail, we descended 1,700', or in other words, we descended at a 25% grade. The trail was pretty fun for us, though, since we were descending. An impressive feature of the Presidentials is the great variety of trails you can experience in a relatively small area. Lowe's Path is very wooded and nicely graded, the Gulfside Trail fairly flat and barren with short grasses and small rocks, the ascents to the peaks are extremely rocky, and then the Caps Ridge Trail was really just a scattering of large boulders, which made it feel a lot more like rock climbing than hiking. So after butt-sliding our way down the Caps Ridge Trail (for which we definitely needed the gloves we brought because otherwise our hands would have been destroyed), we took a rest at the junction with The Link to catch our breath, eat some granola bars, and drink some water.

And so we turned right onto The Link, which we expected to be the easiest part of the hike since the maps made it seem as though the trail was more or less flat along the west face of Jefferson before descending to Lowe's Path through Castle Ravine. Little did we know, the trail ahead would test us physically and mentally far beyond anything we had encountered. As we began, the trail seemed very nice. It was a bit more wild, with a narrower path, but it was shaded, and being in the trees was an encouraging sign that we were making progress descending the mountains.

Unfortunately, stepping over enormous roots, climbing over boulders, and avoiding plunging into deep, black holes in the earth (I'm still not sure what those were, my best guess is that thick groups of roots tangled together making them seem like the ground but every here and there existed a gap in the tangle which truly appeared bottomless, and falling in really would have been a problem) was thoroughly exhausting. So despite the fact that the trail never crossed between the twenty foot contour lines on the topographic map, we ended up constantly going up and down, over and around small hills, large rocks, big roots, fallen trees, and the sum of all that scrambling was far more climbing and enormously more exhausting than anything we imagined. In fact, looking back, I'm not so sure that was a trail. It would probably be an insult to deer trails to call it such; it was more like a squirrel trail. The Mountain Goats, being mountain goats, left E and I in the dust. I began to wonder if I would ever see them again. I really cannot stress enough how exhausting this trail was; in my memory it is all a bit of a haze. I do remember clearly, though, that at one point, E and I just laid down on the moss covered roots, and I said, "Has the thought crossed your mind that we should just lay here and let a bear find us?" Looking back, it's clear that I was joking, but at the time, I'm not so sure I was. Eventually, we caught up with Cycleman, Jump, and Coastie. They had paused at a nice stream/little waterfall, and I dropped to the ground delighted to be resting. We all agreed that The Link was just about the worst trail we could possibly take and decided we needed to find a different way down. Cycleman proposed we bomb down the trail that The Link intersected with ahead called the Castle Trail, which just shoots directly down Castellated Ridge to the bottom of the mountain, and from there we could walk along the Presidential Rail Trail that parallels Rte 2 to return to my car. We agreed to the plan, filled up our water bottles in the stream, and continued our trek.

The Castle Trail was immensely better than The Link. It was wide, obvious, and more or less clear of obstacles. The downside? It was muddier and extremely punishing in its descent. Unlike the Caps Ridge Trail descent which relied as much on the use of our hands and butts as it did our legs, the Castle Trail was all legs. As we continued along the trail, our knees began screaming out to us in pain. Next to go were our shins, and when E and I paused to drink, Cycleman just walked right past us saying, through a grimace, something to the effect of "shins...knees...can't stop." Eventually the trail smoothed out as we approached the base of the mountain, and only one more challenge remained. To get to the Presidential Rail Trail, the Castle Trail crosses a river--no bridge provided. Luckily, the river wasn't too high (I would guess that crossing would not have been possible just a month earlier), and we were able to skip across exposed rocks, which sounds simple enough, but the even simpler act of standing was no piece of cake with our legs shaking from the abuse they just took descending the mountain. Having successfully crossed the river, in which Jump and Coastie decided to wash up a bit, we only had a walk along flat ground to complete our hike.

Cycleman, Jump, Coastie, and E on the Presidential Rail Trail

At this point, we were truly exhausted since we had hiked an unexpected extra 4 miles, but we made it to the car. The great thing about hiking mountains is you earn it all through sheer effort, and one of the most rewarding parts of the hike for me was walking along the Rail Trail and looking back up at the enormous mountains we had just conquered with satisfaction in the knowledge that we did that with nothing but our legs. We packed into my car and drove back to Coastie's car where Cycleman, Jump, and Coastie switched cars. Now, this may be a bit of overshare, but I feel it is a great illustration of how strenuous this hike was. After drinking 10 full bottles of water over the course of the two days, I peed only twice, and I believe everyone else had pretty much the same experience. Another illustration: I brought along 20 granola bars expecting that I would be able to share them with everyone. Turns out I ate sixteen of them, and needed every single one.

We stopped in Concord, NH on the way home to meet at Friendly's for dinner. It was only at this point that we noticed how tough that final descent had been when we found it extremely painful and difficult to sit down and stand up at our table. Furthermore, we realized we smelled awful, and I really hope we gave that waitress an extra tip for enduring our olfactory onslaught. After a filling meal, we parted ways and began the final leg back home. E and I were both extremely tired on the trip and switched off driving probably half a dozen times, and we eventually made it home. We were all more or less immobile for the next couple days as our legs recovered. It would be about a week before stairs could be painlessly dealt with. All in all, it was a great hike, and, as of now, is my all-time favorite. We plan on doing a reunion hike sometime this summer, and I expect nothing less than a great adventure.

Looking back
Below is the GPS generated route we took, and I apologize for the lack of photos from Caps Ridge, The Link, and Castle Trail. At that point, I was simply too exhausted to stop for photography.