Mt. Moriah (4,049)

Date: 11/3/2018, Co-hiker: Stark

The best laid plans …

We had a great idea. We would park at the Wildcat slopes, bike to the Carter-Moriah trailhead, and hike the 18ish miles over Moriah, the Carters, and Wildcat before illegally sledding down the Wildcat slopes. Sure, the forecast said rain, but hopefully it would still be nice, packed-in snow up high.

It was chilly and raining when we hopped on our bikes around 8:45 but the 11 miles to Gorham was mostly downhill. It went by quickly though managed to completely soak through our shoes. The temperature down in Gorham was a heck of a lot warmer than in the notch and I rapidly found the need to shed many layers. Somewhere around Mt. Surprise the rain stopped and I even removed my pants and spent the rest of the adventure in shorts.

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As we continued to climb the temps started sinking a bit and the snow pack plus rain resulted in pure puddle-dom. It was the classic guessing game of trail-or-stream for many blaze-free segments. Between that and sunken wooden logs we had long given up on our feet ever drying.

Then came the treachery: the last 2/10th of a mile push to the summit of Moriah was where we started postholing. Now this is nothing new when it comes to wet snow near summits. What was so dangerous about these postholes was that because of the rain and warmer temps, at the bottom of each sunken step was a pool of freezing cold water. After an incredibly short time of this terrain we both lost feeling in our toes and feet.

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And this is where decisions have to be made: do we push on and hope conditions improve? Do we at least get to the Imp junction then bail? Or do we just turn around?

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Looking at a map, the fastest way off the mountain was back the way we came. And the safest option. And we were glad to have taken it. Within a quarter mile the rain picked back up significantly as the temperatures warmed again. Our feet regained feeling. Our gloves and mittens soaked through but under tree cover the wind was no threat.

Back in Gorham the rain continued to fall lightly but the wind had picked up significantly. Which meant that if we were to cycle back to the car we’d be facing 11 miles of pure uphill into 40+ mph wind. Even though we had only hiked 9 miles we were cold and wet and exhausted just from being cold and wet. So we hitchhiked. After 10 minutes of thumbing a local couple in a truck gave us a lift. And WOW, were we glad – back up in the notch the wind was blowing WAY more fiercely and the rain was beating down with reckless abandon (mmmyep, it really was that dramatic).

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After reuniting with el Jeep we quickly zipped over to Dodge Lodge in order to change into warm dry clothes ($1 for a hot shower, so amazing) before backtracking for the bikes then turning around once again to get into North Conway for consignment shopping and a bite to eat at Delaney’s. That drive through Pinkham notch was probably the worst weather I have ever personally seen in the Whites. The wind was shoving itself into el Jeep and leaves were tornadoing all around the road (I know, not a word).

After bopping around town, as the sun was setting, the sky cleared for a while and was just so gorgeous we figured it would be nice to take the Kanc back south. With just a bit of light left we stopped in awe – Lower Falls had become tumultuous white waters where I reiterated my fear of kayaking. And sure enough a small group of some adventurous/insane folk were walking along with their kayaks in hand, either about to or just having taken that wild ride. As we climbed and darkness fell the rain turned into snow and I could cross off two more life experiences I had not been eager to close off: driving the Kanc in the dark/snow.

But we lived. And my third attempt at a Carter traverse again was a no-go. But I hit my 40th peak and had an adventure day for the books (or blog, as you like it).

Total distance: 10.8 on bike, 8.7 on foot, total time: 32 minutes on bike, <4 hours on foot

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Mt. Chocorua (3,475)

Date: 10/13/2018, Co-hiker: Sisterface (Rachel)

I know. Chocorua is not a 4,000 footer. But I am including it on this blog for one very special reason: my sister came with me! Not only did she do an amazing job keeping pace up her first mountain EVER but we ascended via Carter Ledge trail which is on the Terrifying 25 list.

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We started out on an overcast Saturday with rain in the forecast and the temperature hovering around 50. Just lovely hiking weather. Despite the fact that White Ledge campground was closed for the season I knew that I’d be fine to park for the day at the closed gate as I had seen many a car left there while driving home from bagging Isolation just 2 weeks prior. A quick stroll over to the trailhead, turned on the Strava, and off we went!

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The first 2 miles were a nice walk in the dry woods with not too many leaves on the ground to slip us up. Soon enough we were heading up the first ridge and some bare rock with excellent views of peak New Hampshire foliage. The clouds and spitting rain really made the color pop. As we got to the first truly exposed bit of ridgeline and stopped to take some more photos my sister asked “is that snow?” and I responded “no, I think it’s just thick rain.” I was wrong. Also I was informed that ‘thick rain’ isn’t a thing. It had begun to flurry.

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Unfazed, we pushed on through some fun bits of scramble as I gave my sister bits and pieces of hiking tips and trail etiquette, how to trust your shoes and choose your steps, etc, etc, etc. She was still feeling pretty gung-ho even when a view point showed us that we still had a mile plus to go to reach our destination.

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It was after we had reached Middle Sister and the remains of the old fire tower and hit the summit of First Sister that she learned how discouraging false peaks can be, especially when the white out conditions of what has become a genuine squall prevented us from even seeing Chocorua only 0.4 miles away. But we made it up the last scramble and were all smiles again!

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Heading back the way we came she was dreading the slow, butt-sliding descent down the innumerable scrambles we’d climbed on the way up. After a quick snack we retraced our steps and despite carefully reminding ourselves of which direction we’d come from at every junction, we made the happy accident of starting down Piper trail instead. When I realized this I mentioned that while it would add a little extra to our pre-agreed upon 10 miles she nonetheless felt much safer, as did I, with the more gradual and less exposed descent.

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As we came down the skies super cleared up and the temperature also rose. The people we encountered heading up the trail asked about conditions up top. When we told them about the snow clearing they thought we were joking. After enjoying the sounds of a feeder stream to the Chocorua river for a stretch we came to the Nickerson Ledge trail which would take us over and backward a bit to rejoin Carter Ledge to finish our return trip. This trail was definitely not taken nearly as often as the others, and after an initial climb we lost all blazes near some large boulders and a view point.

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Having taught my sister about blazes and cairns she was worried to be on trail without seeing either. That plus feeling like we were going the complete wrong direction, despite being on what was very clearly a man-made trail. Eventually we spotted some shoe prints and before too long we came across the junction with Carter Ledge with 2 miles of straightforward descent back to the campground. A bit shaken, she was still worried that the trail didn’t look the same as earlier in the day due to the squall having blown oh so many beautiful fresh (slippy) leaves all over our old prints.

But then we back. And after sitting through leaf peeper traffic in North Conway we treated ourselves to burgers and wings at Delaney’s Hole in the Wall before grabbing a hot cup at Frontside and making the drive back to Mass. I was and am so proud of her for bagging such a significant peak for her very first mountain! I don’t expect that she’ll ever run mountains the way I do but I hope I helped her find some love for nature that she hadn’t before tapped in to.

Total distance: 10.8 (10.4 per Strava), total time: 5 hours 56 minutes

Mt. Killington (4,236)

Date: 10/6/2018, solo hike

This was the first hike I’d ever done that started in the afternoon. I was looking at a piece of property along the VT/NH border that morning then had an early lunch with my family who lives in the area. So by the time I got on trail it was nearly 2:30 pm. Knowing that the trail was short and I was planning to go fast I was not concerned about beating sunset. That being said I NEVER get up on New England peaks without emergency gear. I’ve learned some lessons over the past 20 months of experience with my new hobby.

I decided to take Bucklin Trail as it was the most direct route up the mountain and not only did I have lunch plans that day but I also had plans to be in Franconia that evening (me? overextend myself? nooooooo never …). I put el Jeep in 4 wheel drive to get myself to the trailhead which was a ways down a dirt road on the backside of the mountain. Luckily a day hiker had already finished so I got a parking spot in an actual spot. The weather was warm and humid, in the 60s and overcast.

The first 2 miles were pretty unremarkable, some early foliage and a little waterfall, and I managed to run a fair bit of it. I was happy not to encounter more mud pockets than I did. After those 2 miles the trail finally started to ascend at a moderate grade. I was still full from lunch at noon which led to my not hydrating very well. Nonetheless I passed a fair number of groups still on their way up so I didn’t feel terrible about my later-than-usual start.

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The last 0.2 miles after Cooper’s Lodge were a classic 4000 footer pseudo-scramble. I knew that no spectacular views awaited me as it had been socked in all day but I was at least hoping for a cool breeze. Alas, no. Just as warm and sweaty above treeline. And also I couldn’t find a cairn or survey marker which was a wee bit disappointing. That all being said I did not hang out very long.

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The run back down the mountain was more a controlled fall at first with all of the wet rocks until I hit that flat-ish last 2 miles again. What was annoying was all of the other people on trail who did not understand trail etiquette. I guess I was hoping that this peak would be a less popular choice for Columbus Day weekend, especially with the foliage peaking later than usual, but no.

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Overall my first Vermont 4000 footer was pretty ‘meh’ though I am hopeful for the remaining four.

Total distance: 7 miles (7.3 per Strava), total time: 1 hour 50 minutes

Mt. Isolation (4,003)

Date: 9/29/2018, solo hike

I had planned on doing this hike a week prior to actually accomplishing the feat. I had been deterred by the great misfortune of losing my one and only car key. But that is a long, frustrating tale and this is not a blog about my week of bad luck.

I decided to approach Isolation via Great Boulder for two reasons: one, it had the least total mileage, and two, I thought I might get a great view at Slide Peak and beyond which is just shy of Boott Spur. And let me tell you, Great Boulder trail is aptly named – not just because of big ol’ Glen Boulder itself but because the trail is maybe 85-90% rocks of varying sizes.

I started off from the Glen Ellis parking lot just after 8:30 with partly sunny skies and temps around 50 (still a bit warm for my taste) and the trail pretty quickly was like “yay now we go up!” It wasn’t too long until I was scrambling and staring at a lovely smattering of rocks with the southern end of Pinkham notch spread out below me, the bare slopes of Wildcat on the other side.

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Also, here’s the timed selfie I was taking when the wind blew my phone off its perch and cracked my screen in two places. Insert bitter sarcastic comment here.

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As I made my way up to Slide Peak and the alpine zone I encountered some classic weather of the Prezi range – meaning socked in, windy, and 20 degrees colder than where I had just been. Despite moving at a decent clip even I found the need to put on a long sleeved layer over my tank top (still booty short weather). This didn’t last too long, though, as I took a left onto Davis Path and plunged back below treeline.

Now this part was fun for quite a stretch. I sang to myself a bit and occasionally passed some other folk banging out Isolation that day as I picked my way over roots and rock (as I refer to it, more of a controlled fall than actual running). It did, unfortunately, get quite muddy after the second junction with Isolation trail. Which slowed me down a bit. But sooner than I expected I was at the side trail for the summit. And viola! Just like that I was in the single digits for NH 4000 footers left to bag.

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I was feeling good about my time and the increased presence of the sun so I hightailed it back the way I came at a slightly faster pace. It was as I started the ascent back towards Glen Boulder trail that the hunger kicked in and I had to pop some shot blocks. Above treeline was a bit better on the way back but still had me in sleeves for about 15 minutes.

Then it was the easy part, the gradual descent back to the big rocks. I started seeing a lot more people on the return trip. Funny enough everyone else was wearing pants and shells and hats and things … and giving ME looks as though I were the crazy one. It was such a stunning view what with the clouds lifted that it was hard not to stop and take more pictures. The trees were juuuusssstttt starting to turn but my camera couldn’t do it justice (no, not because of the cracked screen).

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The most interesting part of the day was probably as I was passing Glen Boulder heading back, there was a group of people (couldn’t tell you the age range) just lying down on rocks nearby, some in the middle of the frigging trail, listening to a woman reading a poem or something (again, in the middle of the trail). It’s very nice that you’re trying to get in touch with nature or whatever but, um, get off the trail.

And boom! I was back! And I officially only had 9 more peaks to go in New Hampshire! My knees were spent and I had scraped up both shins and busted open a finger. And my back injury hates it when I immediately drive after an aggressive hike/run. So I just drove to Moat and treated myself to a burger and a salad with their AMAZEBALLS molasses peppercorn dressing. Then I found a perfectly blue TNF puffy vest at International Mountain Equipment and treated myself to a cold brew from Frontside. Then I got sore again on the way home so I stopped at the NH state liquor store just before MA on 95 and bought a nice Islay and had a whole conversation about Scotch with the old man who rang me up. Just, such a baller day.

Total distance: 12 miles (11.3 per Strava), total time: 4 hours, 14 minutes

Mt. Waumbek (4,006)

Date: 9/15/2018, Co-Hikers: Cathy and Rudy, Sheila and Temperance

Yes, I went back to bag the other peak in this range after my epic fail of July.

I had no grand intentions. I just wanted to casually spend a day in the mountains with my friend, her dog, her roommate, and her roommate’s dog.

It was once again hot as balls, same as my attempted traverse in July. I actually ran out of water just from sweating and was feeling quite parched by the time I had turned back and descended far enough to go filter some water from the stream running alongside the trail near the head (a feeder of the Israel River).

Otherwise the hike was a very straightforward out and back on Starr King trail without any crazy incline. We also met SO so many other dogs including two huge Swiss mountain dogs which helped us discovered that that’s probably the breed Rudy was crossed with. Also some very cute little girls hiking with their parents.

Not many views until just beyond the summit of Waumbek where there were some blowdowns which let us gaze over at the Presidents. Really, there’s not much to say about this day. It was just really pleasant (and really hot). Look at some pictures:

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The following day I went back to Mt. Pleasant in Maine which was the first time I legit tried to “run” a mountain just about 1 year prior. I wanted to see how much I’d progressed in that time. And I was suuuuuper pleased with my performance! Plus Temperance came with me who of course was lovely company.

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Total distance: 7.2 miles, total time: 3 hours 14 minutes

Mt. Cabot (4,167)

Date: 7/21/2018, Co-Hiker: Matt

This hike was the first hike where I did not complete what I set out to do. I was attempted to add the phrase “through no fault of my own” to the end of that sentence but I feel like that’s a cop out.

I hadn’t hiked with Matt in almost 2 years. He’s been very busy being a super smartypants and getting another masters degree at Harvard Business School which included weekend classes. We drove north midday on Friday in what was the WORST traffic I have ever seen on 93 north in my life. Matt left from a very similar location 40 minutes later than I did and it took him an extra 45 minutes to arrive.

We slept in until 5 since the Kilkenny Traverse is only about 25 miles total, not the 32 that was the Pemi loop, an with less overall elevation gain. Due to a few small setbacks and a navigation challenge we didn’t get on trail until 7am. Since we decided to do north to south we started off with the flattest stretch of trail. I made a quick detour out and back on Devil’s Hopyard since it’s on the Terrifying 25 list. It was slippery and sketchy but fairly short. I did manage to put my foot straight through a rotted log but my feet stayed dry so I was happy.

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I caught up to Matt at Rogers Ledge which was just lovely. It would have made for a great picnic and nap spot if I wasn’t feeling so fresh and fueled at only 2 hours and 6 miles into the hike. I slowed my pace at that point to stick with Matt. It was on our next short ascent up some nothing peak on the way to Unknown Pond that he started to doubt whether he’d be able to complete the traverse. We pushed onward up the Bulge where we finally bumped into some other humans. The Cabot loop from the fish hatchery was very popular that day. I did the quick out and back to the Horn which provided a GLORIOUS view of, like, every peak in every direction.

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When I got back to the junction Matt had made up his mind. He would take Bunnell Notch back to the hatchery parking lot after we summited Cabot. While he had been regularly exercising his mind, his hiking muscles had paid the price. Cabot summit was wooded but had a nice clearing where I sat down to change my socks (I do not like the individual toe partitions). That’s when we met Indy, a 1 year old Vizsla puppy, and her human Steve and his girlfriend. They were so crazy awesome and also live in the Boston area. He told me to find him on Strava and you can bet your ass I did. Spoiler alert: we’re trail buddies now.

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Since it was another 1.7 miles till my junction I bid Matt adieu and started running down the south side of Cabot, past the cute little cabin up there. around 1.65 miles later I passed a sign for a trail that was no longer maintained. It seemed like the right spot for my junction but after a few minutes along that I got a bad feeling about it so climbed back up to the trail we’d all been on. I continued along for another few minutes until I saw a brand new sign that just said “Mount Cabot 1.7 miles”. But … that’s where my junction was supposed to be. And it wasn’t.

I kept going east and after another few minutes met a big group of humans who seemed to know the trails well. They all stated that they had not passed any trail junction heading south toward Waumbek. Then the woman who was leading the pack told me that the out of use trail was, in fact, the one I wanted to take to get to Waumbek. Oooookkkkaaayyyyy …. she seemed incredibly confident about her knowledge. So I turned around and ran back to the sketchy trail, passing a confused Matt. Spoiler alert: this is the wrong trail.

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Actually the trail wasn’t super sketchy for very long. And after a decent bit of descent I came to running water with a sign for northbound hikers that it was the last water source before Cabot summit. Since it was also the hottest weather I’d ever hiked in in the Whites I gladly used my filter to refill my bladder and one of my squeeze bottles, and left some cold mountain water in the filter bladder as well. And I pushed on.

The trail was still a trail. The map had said 1.9 miles to my next short peak. But my trail … kept taking me down. And west of the peaks that I could clearly see. After about 3/3.5 miles I just knew that I was not in the right place. And not long after the bad feeling hit my solar plexus my trail turned into a very unused dirt road, overgrown with lots of greenery. Oh no. I eventually came to a crossroads. My dirt/grass road continued south. A gravel road went east/west. I turned off airplane mode and actually had 2 bars. Google maps seemed to suggest that this trail was, actually, Bunnell Notch trail, at the western most edge of the forest.

Okay, maybe it would intersect with Kilkenny Ridge trail and I could, actually, complete this hike. Though oh so much later than I had planned. I started plodding east but after a quarter mile I came to another intersection. The gravel road continued up to the left (north), a dirt/grass road went straight ahead (east), and another gravel road turned right … where there was a mailbox … and just around the bend was a rusted metal shack. I froze with indecision. Google maps was not going to be of any help with this. For one millisecond I thought about seeing if anyone was home at this metal shack in the middle of the wilderness but then though “No, Laura, that’s how horror movies start.”

I started walking east. For all of a minute. And then I thought “what would your mother say?” And I knew what she’d say. She’d say be safe, be smart, take the road that you know for certain will lead you back to civilization. So I did. I turned around and took the dirt road south and out of the woods. And it led me to a small neighborhood. And I admit, I was alone and tired and overheated and a little lost so I actually knocked on the door of the first house I saw but nobody was home.

So I decided to walk the 6-7 miles of road back to my car. This was infinitely less enjoyable than being in the woods and on trail. I had no tree coverage. By the time I made my second of many lefts I was on pavement with no sidewalk and little to no shoulder. I had GPS so I knew every half mile I completed because Strava would tell me so but I still had no reception and therefore no music to pass the time. I was miserable but at least I wasn’t lost in the woods or in a horror movie.

Ultimately I made it back to my Jeep and met up with Matt at the designated lot and then we ate so much pizza. I accomplished two of the four things I had intended to that day which is not nothing. And the mountains will still be there when I go back … and do a south to north traverse. Also friendly tip: don’t walk 7 miles of road in just a sports bra, your day pack will chafe the everlasting crap out of your back.

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Total distance: 24.9 miles, total time: 8 hours 41 minutes (both entirely per Strava this time)

Sugarloaf, Spaulding (4,249; 4,009)

Date: 6/30/2018, solo hike

This was a hike where I learned some lessons.

First of all, getting a quality map of the area I’m hiking is always a good idea. After driving 4 slow miles along a brutal dirt road to get to the trailhead it was a 0.5 mile walk further down the road to the junction. Now here’s the thing – I didn’t know if I was facing north or south. From the direction I was facing the path to the right was marked by a piece of wood roughly carved to look like an arrow pointing the way. The path the to left had a white arrow spray painted on a rock. Nowhere was there signage indicating which direction was which trail or mountains. Thinking I was facing north (spoiler alert: WRONG) I turned right at the piece of wood.

I was still feeling pretty good along that first mile of trail – legs, shoes, fuel, hydration all still pretty solid. I passed a through hiker who was super friendly and told me she had seen a moose just a ways ahead of me. Which, to be totally honest, scared the pants off of me. So I kept up singing to myself to convince large fauna to stay away. After that first mile I finally arrived at a small clearing and a sign telling me I was at Crocker Cirque campsite.

Wait. What? No, I wasn’t hiking Crocker that day. That was supposed to be my final hike the following day. The 3 through hikers taking a rest and eating lunch there corrected my mistake and pointed me back the way I had come. And here’s where I felt that first twinge of “what the heck am I doing to myself.” Knowing that I had just inadvertently added 2 miles to an already strenuous hike – my second of the day – took a whole lotta gumption to swallow and a whole lotta conviction to get myself to keep moving past the junction with the dirt road and over to the trail I actually wanted to be on.

I struggled for a minute through the AT campground to find the right fording site across the South Branch Carrabassett River but eventually made it across with ease (a small metal plank was anchored in site) and again crossed paths with the moose spotter from earlier who empathized with my plight. Then the climb up Sugarloaf. I was not mentally prepared for this. Had I done my research I would have easily discovered that it is the second highest peak in Maine after Katahdin. Oops.

It was a nice ascent, to be honest, and in different conditions I would have adored it. There were areas of exposed face in the hot midday sun with some fun grade 2/3 scrambles. And I again filtered some icy cold mountain stream water to cool off. But my spirits were beginning to falter. I could feel myself slowing down on the final half mile up to the summit after passing 3 shirtless college-aged boys at the junction signs. At the top I met a dad and his young son who had taken the tram up and who offered me a Hershey bar but I was starting to feel defeated so stupidly declined the free sugar. Instead I hunched over like Smeagol, letting the wind cool me down, and ate only half of my PB sandwich.

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I made it back to the AT junction by 1:15 and pushed across the next 2 miles to Spaulding. Here was another surprise (which again, the slightest bit of Googling would have prepared me for) – there was no ridge trail. I had to descend a solid percentage of my first mountain before I was able to run a bit then start climbing up the next. Spaulding was much less steep and I was at the summit by 2pm but was starting to feel like I was moving through molasses. I was eating shot blocks and staying hydrated but I was getting tired. I didn’t bother to take a photo or even walk over to the view point.

One of the 3 shirtless boys was at the sign posting something to social media. He gave me a weather update that thunderstorms were forecasted to roll in around 4/5pm. So there it was. A much more solid reason to not go the final 1.7 miles to Abraham. And I made that call. My new credo, whenever I am hiking, is that if I do something stupid and it doesn’t kill me then my mother will come find me and kill me herself for being so stupid. And I couldn’t imagine explaining to her why I had chosen to descend exposed scrambles during a thunderstorm.

It was while descending Spaulding that my heels really starting to sting. I had expected to blister on the right where my tattered sock had already ripped a bit but both Achilles felt like someone was holding a match to them. Like, a big match. I could barely convince myself to slow jog along the relatively flatter bits of trail. Miraculously the return ascent up a portion of Sugarloaf was not as bad as I had anticipated. It was the long struggle down the back of that mountain that slowed me considerably. I had not re-upped on ibuprofen and my knees. Were. Screaming.

That was it. I was done. It sprinkled once or twice but the sun stayed out. The clouds tasted like the promise of oncoming downpour and I tried to make myself just move, move as fast as my broken body would let me. And then I could hear the river. I had clambered over the final pile of rocks. I didn’t even care about avoiding the mud puddles. I blindly splashed through instead of around. I caught myself mid-tripping over roots and rocks with every other step. I was sleep walking. I was a zombie. Then I was crossing the river. I was stumbling along the half mile of dirt road. And then my Jeep, oh my beautiful Jeep! I came back to you. 3:54 and no storm clouds in site.

I cannot remember driving back along the dirt road. The next thing I knew I was parking at the Rack, a BBQ spot on Sugarloaf resort which opened right at 4pm. And then I had to remove my shoes and socks. And yes to be gross, a decent amount of blood and some skin came off with them, more so on the right where that sock had been torn to start. I hobbled up to the bar and got my favorite post-hike recovery drink – salty lemonade – and ordered a family platter of meat.

While I thought I had already discovered the friendliness and camaraderie of trail folk that day one more surprise awaited me: a skinny trail runner sat down near me at the empty bar and told me he had seen me running a mountain earlier. We chatted a bit and I mentioned the sad story of my socks (which I had thrown out) and how if I wanted to try one last hike the next morning I’d have to go buy a new pair. Between his burger and brownie sundae he stepped away for a moment then returned to hand me a pair of socks and some blister tape. What!?! That gesture was so incredibly kind that I immediately promised myself that one day I would pay it forward.

My birthday hiking extravaganza ends on an adulting safety note. The following morning when I awoke (shortly after sunrise as usual) I took one step onto my right foot and almost crumpled to the ground from the pain caused by stretching my wound. And I decided not to go on that final hike. There will be another time I can return to Carrabassett Valley and climb Abraham and Crocker. And maybe even have a day of fun on one of the many lakes I saw from up high. Overall I summited half of Maine’s 4000 footers. Not too shabby at all!

Total distance: 13 miles, total time: 5 hours

Mt. Bigelow (4,088; 4,145)

Date: 6/30/2018, solo hike

The third day of my birthday hiking trip was my most ambitious with two different ranges on my schedule. I was a little surprised at how good I still felt, if a little pink and sun-kissed in some areas from spending so much time above treeline the day before. I put the same pair of socks for the third day in a row and set off along the Fire Warden’s trail up Bigelow shortly after 6am.

Much of the early trail was runnable. I passed one lone backpacker within a mile of starting and then met a man hiking with 3 huskies (!) just as they turned off at the junction with Horns Pond. I kept going strong over wooden planks and trails that were streams until the Moose Falls campsite. At that point the trail became an aggressive incline with numerous sections of rock steps. According to some websites I found, the last 0.7 miles of this trail gains over 3,000 feet. Definitely my slowest section of trail after Katahdin’s Knife Edge!

There was a cute campsite at Avery Col and some thoughtful soul had even left a gallon of fresh water at the sign post. I popped over the Avery peak where I wasn’t expecting much and proceeded to be totally blown away by the view. Mountains! Mountains in every direction! And lakes! So many lakes! I was absolutely stunned. It’s moments like those that make me wish I had a better quality camera (or at least camera phone).

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After a quick snack I doubled back and made a quick ascent of the west peak which, again, those views … It was the stretch between the west peak and the Horns where I started to encounter a number of other hikers and AT backpackers. Everyone was so nice. And I got to pet a bunch of dogs. The jog along this section was probably my favorite part of day 3. Eventually the trail trended up again toward the north Horn where to my surprise the man with 3 huskies was chilling, taking it all in! And I learned two of their names and pet them a whole bunch.

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Coming off the north Horn was another campsite (as empty as the first) and Horns Pond where the huskies had gone for a swim. Hot as I was I didn’t have the time or change of clothes needed to take a dip myself. I’d decided to make that day a “fast and light” day with just my trail running vest. I descended via Horns Pond trail which again allowed a good amount of running. The 2.4 miles flew by and then I was back on Fire Warden’s, this time with a fly buzzing around my head who wouldn’t leave me alone the whole way back. Though my legs were just starting to tire, keeping up a running pace was preferable to swatting at the thing continuously.

By the time I got back to my car I was flushed and overheated. I took the opportunity to blast the AC in my face and eat a PB sandwich before driving the 30 minutes over to the trail head for part 2 of day 3… also note that this day I took fewer and fewer photos as I became more and more spent.

Total distance: 12+ miles, total time: just shy of 4 hours

KATAHDIN (5,267; 4,756)

Date: 6/29/2018 (my birthday!), solo hike

I had been trying to schedule a long weekend of hiking Katahdin with friends for the past 2 seasons to no avail. Which was why I eventually decided I would just go by myself as I had been dreaming of this mountain for long enough. It was the crux of my birthday hiking trip. And it did not disappoint.

I woke up with the sun, meaning the rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared. I broke camp eagerly and had my oatmeal with pre-cooked bacon and instant coffee, put a handful of snacks in my day pack, and put back on the only pair of socks that I had with me for the weekend (spoiler alert: this does not end well for me after my last hike of the trip) which were thankfully totally dry.

I took Helon Taylor to Pamola peak which was a long moderate ascent through the woods, filled with trails that were streams and bugs o’ plenty. A common theme to my Maine hikes, I would come to find. I only saw one other person on that trail toward the very beginning. I also felt like I was moving slower than usual because my calves were achy from the day before. Kind of wished I had stretched before hand. Instead I just pressed on.

And then finally I was there, above treeline, staring at a lovely rocky climb. And the close I got to Pamola the more the Knife Edge showed itself to me. Internally I was giggling like a small child. I was here! And then I was walking the Knife Edge! And it was exhilarating! Hot in the sun with the Southern exposure, cool and windy with the Northern exposure as the sun continued its own climb. I was so. Damn. Happy.

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As I arrived at the summit I bumped into some other giddy folk. I took a glowing selfie with the terminus sign and took off for the saddle which looked like an idyllic painting, not reality, of flattish greenery and a rocky trail between the two peaks. I wanted to run this but had to stick to boulder hopping and a bit of a trot along the smaller rocks. When I got to the what I determined to be the midpoint I tried to take a panorama of the splendor surrounding me … which of course failed miserably as I have been using a partially broken iPhone 6 for the past few months. Still, the memory lives within me.

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As I started the straight forward ascent to Hamlin peak I met a man who had been backpacking within the park for the past 3 days. Very impressive. Total goals right there. I also passed by a skinny young fellow reclining and reading a book in the dappled shade alongside the trail as it passed through some brush. Again, GOALS, I would have loved to stay up there all day in the sun doing the same. Instead I summited Hamlin peak and looked back on the jagged outline of Knife Edge and tried to take the perfect timed selfie. But really, how can you expect to capture the greatness of a mountain like that with pixels?

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The climb down from Hamlin was fun, many big boulders. And I met a park employee repainting the blazes – almost got a unique souvenir on my hand from lack of paying attention. It was getting hot enough in the sun to the point that I was grateful to get below treeline once again. The remainder of the hike back along Chimney Pond was that same mix of mud, rocks, roots, and trail-is-stream-bed. I did get in some good running though. And stopped to filter some deliciously cold stream water.

On my way out I noted that I was the first hiker of the day to sign out of the register. Was that a happy fact or a sad fact? And the rangers at the gatehouse informed me that I had missed the black bear who audaciously mounted a picnic table at the campsite that morning. All told, I have to go back. Yes for Katahdin, but also because I explored such a tiny morsel of that park and I know that it has many more secrets to unveil.

Total distance: 11.2 miles, total time: 5 hours 22 minutes

North Brother (4,150)

Date: 6/28/2018, solo hike

This was my first taste of Maine 4000 footers. And for some reason I thought 4000 footers in Maine would be easier than the ones in New Hampshire. What?!? I don’t know why I had this notion but boy howdy was I wrong.

After spending the night before at a cheap airport hotel in Waterville, ME I drove the remaining 3+ hours to Baxter State Park on a very rainy day. Within the park there are only very narrow dirt roads with a max speed of 20 mph. So even though it took 2 hours to get to the park it took an hour to drive the fairly short distance to the trailhead. And the rain continued its steady fall.

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Being much more a fan of through hikes and loops than out-and-back hikes, I decide to take Mt. Coe trail up to that peak then quickly tap South Brother before nabbing my first Maine 4Ker. The trail started off like most New England trails, flat at first then a long gradual ascent before the real work began. And let me tell you, climbing Mt. Coe was NO JOKE. I’m talking a super slick grade 2 scramble in the rain and clouds. Picture me, completely alone on the trail because what other idiot wants to do a difficult 10+ mile hike in that weather, trying not to fall off the mountain while every now and then desperately searching for the next blaze or cairn on the totally exposed face.

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Like, the photos totally don’t do it justice. It was with intense relief that I survived the climb. I joyfully skipped along the muddy, rocky, rooty stretch to the South brother turn-off. Which I took, because why not, and it was nothing to write home about. Shortly thereafter came the 0.9 bit of trail to the summit of North Brother. And there laid great frustration because the trail was, in fact, a stream bed. Eventually I completely gave up on my feet ever being dry again.

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And then my rain soaked self was on the exposed summit above treeline, the wind whipping the clouds around me, quickly turning my healthy sweating into damp shivering. I took a crappy photo and ate a bar before getting the heck back below treeline. The descent was fun to run when it was runnable. There was one part where I passed a suuuupppeeerrrr creepy stagnant pond. The kind of scene where some mythical creature or woodsy deity sees you seeing them and punishes you or bestows a double edged power unto you. I ran away from there very quickly.

That night I camped in the rain. I cooked a camp dinner in the rain. I hid in my tent from 6pm until it was dark enough to go to sleep. It was not fun. I need to get better camping in the rain skills.

Total distance: 10.2 miles, total time: 4 hours