Sunday, March 9, 2014

Carter Notch Hut in Winter

Clear winter morning at Carter Notch Hut.
When my west-coast sister came out to New Hampshire for a few days,her one request was "Take me on a winter adventure!"  I decided to take her to my beloved White Mountain wilderness.  I booked us one night at the Carter Notch Hut - an Appalachian Mountain Club hut that serves as a self service accommodation in winter.  We experienced smooth, snow-packed trail, cold nights, and comforting fellowship. 

Here's how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure:  Carter Notch Hut overnight

Getting There: We took the 19 Mile Brook Trail out-and-back to access the Carter Notch Hut. 
19 Mile Brook Trailhead
This trail can be accessed on Rt 16 about 2-5 miles north of AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center/Joe Dodge Lodge.  To get there from Boston/Southern New Hampshire, take 1-95 North to the Spaulding Turnpike (Route 16) North.  It is approximately a 3 hour drive from Boston/2.5 hour from Exeter, New Hampshire.  After you pass Wildcat Ski area, the trail head is 1-2 miles further on the right and marked with a small "hiker" sign.  Parking is free in the winter but requires a National Forest park pass (purchasable at map/sign) in summer.  There are no bathrooms at the trail head. 

Trail:  We took the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail 1.9 miles to the Carter Dome Trail/Nineteen Mile Brook Trail junction.  This section is a mild ascent through boreal/evergreen forest.  The snowy and flowing Nineteen Mile Brook parallels the trail and at times, the two cross.  In winter, these crossings were easy.  From the junction, we continued on Nineteen Mile Brook Trail for 1.7 miles.  The trail continued with a moderate ascent.  A thick layer of packed snow made it easy on our knees.  Impressively, there was little ice, and although we had
Packed snow on 19 Mile Brook Trail
packed crampons and microspikes, we never felt the need to strap them on!  As we approached the hut, we got views of frozen alpine ponds and peeks of the steep cliffs of Wildcat Mountain on our right.  Near the hut, we linked up with the AT/Carter Moriah Trail for the last 0.1 mile to Carter Notch Hut.   Our hike up was moderate and gentle mountain climb through snow filled forest on a cold day.

The next morning, we returned the same way.

Difficulty: Due to perfect snow pack conditions, our trail was an easy to moderate climb.  However, bitterly cold weather and unpredictable winter conditions make this an adventure that should only be attempted by hikers with winter hiking experience and proper safety gear.

Distance: 7.2 miles round trip.  It took us 2.5 hours to make it up to the hut and about an hour back.

Carter Notch Hut:   Carter Notch Hut is a hundred-year-old mountain hut located in the valley
Carter Notch Hut
between Wildcat Mountain and Carter Dome.  In the summer, a team of staff members cook meals, provide bedding, and guide visitors who stay the night.  This is called the "full-service season".  In winter months, the hut changes over to a "self-service" facility.  One AMC staff member cares for the hut and helps guests who stay.  For a reasonable overnight fee ($26 for AMC members/$31 for nonmembers), guests get access to the kitchen (stove, dishes, and oven), as well as a bunk in the non-heated bunkhouse, and toilets.  After dark, the caretaker also runs a fire in the wood stove to warm guests and dry gear. 

On this 20 degree hiking day, Kelly and I greatly appreciated the access to hot water for drinks, a warm dinner and snuggle by the fire before dipping into our freezing bunkroom.  The crew member, Liz, was knowledgeable, welcoming, and helpful.  To pass the evening, Kelly and I took photos, explored the area, played cards, and chatted with Liz.  We made a hot dinner and sipped a cup of wine before heading to bed.  We had a memorable and peaceful experience at this iconic hut.

Inside of Carter Notch Hut

Gear -  This overnight trek is not for those who fear the cold.  We chose a very cold (but beautiful)
Crossing frozen pond in Carter Notch
weekday evening to make this trek.  Adventurers should bring proper winter hiking and safety equipment including: multiple warm/non-cotton layers, winter gloves, shell, warm hat, ski pants, long underwear, warm socks, winter boots, trekking poles, and boot traction (snowshoes, microspikes, or crampons).  Also, bring food for all meals, 2L of water per day (clean water available at hut), headlamp, map, compass, and first aid kit. 

It is VERY important you bring a sleeping bag that can handle the cold temperatures.  Kelly used a -30 degrees bag that kept her toasty in the frigid temps.  I brought a 20 degree bag along with a bivy - unfortunately - THIS WAS NOT WARM ENOUGH!  I was very uncomfortable and ended up cuddling up with my sister and sharing the roomy -30 bag. 

Reservations - We made our reservations weeks ahead online at, but since we went mid-week, it turned out that we were the only guests that night at the hut.

This was a wonderful way to experience winter hiking in the Northeast!  It was fun showing my sister the beauty of our winters.  The morning we woke up at the hut was clear and blue skies.  We marveled at the shear cliffs of Wildcat Mountain and Carter Dome that loomed above us and the twinkling white of the snow filled notch. I can't wait for the next adventure with my wonderful sister!

For another winter overnight, check out former blog posts below:
Cold Night on the Mountain

A great way to spend time with my sister.

Please leave comments and questions below. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cross Country Ski in Maine, NH, and VT

Trapp Family Outdoor Center, Stowe, VT
Although I grew up hitting the alpine slopes of Mt. Hood in Oregon, it wasn't until I moved to Maine as an adult that I tried cross country skiing. Since then, I have discovered that Northern New England is the perfect place to enjoy the sport.  With plenty of snow all winter long and extensive wilderness, it is America's cross country playground.

If you are new to the sport, cross country skiing is best experienced on flat or rolling hills terrain.  The leather boots are flexible compared to rigid alpine boots.  This makes turning and stopping more challenging then its downhill counterpart. 

Cross country skiing is also cheaper than downhill skiing.  In New England, it is easy to find snowy trails to explore for free. If you are new to New England, or new to cross country skiing, I recommend trying out a ski center that will provide rental gear and groomed trails at varied ability levels.

Here are my recommendations for Southern Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont cross country ski parks...

Taking a break, Maine

Southern Maine

Harris Farm
Location: Dayton, Maine
Rentals: Yes ($10-$15)
Lessons: Yes ($18-$30)
Trail Fees: ($8-$15)
Lodge: Yes
Snowshoe: Yes

There are many places to cross country ski in Maine.  I've always been partial to Harris Farm since this was where I first tried the sport.  Harris Farm is a 600 acre eco-friendly dairy and crop farm located on Buzzel Road in Dayton, Maine.  In the winter, the farm converts to a cross country park.  They offer 40 kilometers of trail ranging from beginners loops to advanced hills with views of fields and forest.  It is a great family outing and local secret.  After an adventure, skiers can purchase food/drink or bring their own to the lodge.  Dogs are welcome on the trails on weekdays.

New Hampshire

Great Glen Trails
Location: Gorham, New Hampshire
Rentals: Yes ($10-$20)
Lessons:  Yes ($25-$50)
Trail Fees:  ($10-$20)
Lodge:  Yes
Snowshoe: Yes

Views from Great Glen Trails - White Mountains, NH
Great Glen Trails is a outdoor adventure outfitter that provides lessons, gear, and 40 kilometers of groomed trail for everyone from beginners to advanced skiers.  It is located on Route 16 at the start of the Mt. Washington Auto Road.  The Outdoor Center offers tubing, snowshoeing and skiing.  You can purchase lessons from experts, including the opportunity to ski with a former US Olympian.  When skiing with Great Glen, you'll also enjoy amazing views of the White Mountains and Mt. Washington. 


Trapp Family Lodge
Location:  Stowe, Vermont
Rentals:  Yes ($15-$25 with week packages)
Lessons:  Yes ($25-$70 with week and rental packages)
Trail Fees: ($5-$22 with week packages)
Lodge: Yes
Skiing to warming hut at Trapp Family Lodge
Snowshoe: Yes

The Trapp Family Lodge offers the largest trail system of the three, with over 100 kilometers of trails.  This outdoor center is part of the Trapp Family Resort - the family made famous by the Sound of Music.  Knowledgeable staff and endless options makes it not a day destination - but a week!  I love the diverse trails through forest and fields with views of the Green Mountain range of Vermont.  This center is located on Trapp Hill Road in Stowe Vermont. 

I've discovered that cross country skiing is as much a New England tradition as lobster dinners and Red Sox games.  There are many places to explore and adventure on skis.  Once you get the hang on it on one of the resorts, try exploring into local trails, farms, and parks.  While gracefully gliding through New England on skis, I recall the first stanza of New Hampshire poet Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"...

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow

Stopping by woods on a snowy evening...

Please leave comments and questions below...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pawtuckaway in Winter

Beautiful Snowy Day Hike!
Looking for a mountain view in Southern New Hampshire?  Go no further than Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, New Hampshire.  This 5,000 acre preserve is located just 38 miles from Boston.  Matt and I drive the 20 minutes from Exeter to this local hike.  We took Rt 156 to the Mountain Road entrance.  After parking in the snowy parking lot, we walked down the unplowed road to the Mountain Trail.  Hiking past frozen ponds and hardwood forests, we made tracks to the South Ridge trail where we turned right to reach the summit of South Mountain (908 feet) and fire tower.  Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure:  Pawtuckaway South Mountain snow hike

Getting there: From Exeter, NH, I took Highway 101 East to Exit 5.  Take 156/102/107 toward Nottingham.  Turn left on Nottingham Rd/156-N and turn left on Mountain Road.  Look for signs for the Pawtuckaway State Park Visitor Center.

Trail: We hiked the 6 mile out and back up to the South Mountain peak (908') from the visitor center.  Take the Mountain Trail to the South Ridge Trail right towards the fire tower and summit. The trail is mostly flat with the last mile a moderate scramble to the summit.  Prior to the fire tower you will get a open view of the valley below as well as another partial view from the fire tower summit.

Difficulty:  Easy to Moderate - The trail in snow was easy for 90% of the hike.  With little to no traction, we easily walked the flat and wide trail towards the peak.  The last mile, I used my micro-spikes to scramble the moderate climb.  Matt did fine without, but it took a little more effort.  We met a few other hikers using snow shoes, but the trail was packed enough to go without.  This is a great option for first time snow hikers or families.

Distance: 6 miles round trip, 2-2.5 hours

- Pick up a complementary trail map from the parking lot.
- Bring a simple traction for the last mile that you can keep in your pack (micro spikes or yak trax).
- Dress in non cotton layers that can be shed when you get hot.
- Pack water, snack, waterproof snow boots (I wear LL Bean snow boots), and a cell phone.

Matt and I had a great adventure hiking up the local Pawtuckaway State Park.  I can't wait to go back and explore some more!

Please leave comments and question below....

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gear Review: HomeStar Pocket - Personal GPS

HomeStar Pocket GPS helps find way in
snow covered trail.
Every outdoor adventurer is a little gear obsessed.  Here is my latest review of the HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS system.

Personal Handheld GPS
HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS

With the increasing number of backcountry navigation devices available, it's often difficult to choose what precious items will make it into your pack.  Fortunately, this little key fob weighs almost nothing and can bring you peace of mind and an extra orientation backup system.  Over the past months, I tried out the HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS to see if this little piece of gear was worth the addition to the pack.

HomeStar GPS guides through fog on
Mt. Katahdin, Maine
The Basics... 

The HomeStar is easy to learn and use.  The device works by letting you easily set three waypoints along your adventure.  When you are ready to return, simply click the button for the way point you want to return to and a circle of flashing lights will guide you back to your site.  

Test Adventures... 

I gear tested the GPS on three adventures - a mountain climb in September, a cross country ski in December, and a snow shoe hike in January.  In all three adventures, the HomeStar GPS worked well and did what it promised.  I was able to set way points and return to the site with its guidance.  


The HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS is a good tool to use as a backup safety orientation device.  Its super-small design adds literally no weight to your pack, and gives you extra piece of mind if you lose your way.  It is easy to use and comes with a user manuel and youtube video that shows how to use it.  Although it's no substitute for a good map and compass, it can save a lost hiker who has lost his/her way from a trail and needs to return to a way point.  

HomeStar helps us find our trail.
On Mt. Katahdin in Maine, I set way points at the car, an important junction, and the summit.  The night before our hike, we learned that three hikers had been lost in the fog and had to be rescued.  I realized that if I was in a similar situation, the HomeStar GPS could have led me back to a way point spot.  These hikers were not so fortunate, and rescuers finally found them far from the trail in a ravine.  They had wandered far - thinking they were returning to the trail.  

I found the device useful as a winter hiking companion.  I used it on two occasions after fresh snow fall - once while cross country skiing in Maine and once on a snowshoeing adventure in southern New Hampshire.  After the snow, the trail is often not packed and visible.  It is unsafe to rely on your tracks to lead you back, since at any time, new snow can fill the pockets, or you could easily get led astray by other tracks.  My companions and I used the HomeStar GPS as a safety back-up tool in case we lost our way from the trail.  We set a way point at the parking lot, an important junction and the turn-around-spot.  That way, if we had lost our way, we could have easily found an recognizable spot.  I tested the GPS and it was able to guide us back to these way points.  

HomeStar is limited to finding way-points - not new locations.

With small size, comes some limitations.  Although it's great as a safety backup in fowl weather or for a lost hiker, this device does not work well as a navigation and orienteering device.  While it can direct you toward a set way point, the HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS does not indicate the compass direction you are going (N, S, E, W).  Since you mark way points as you pass them, it cannot guide you to a place you have not been - only help you return to a place you once were.  

The other limitation of the small size of HomeStar is that it does not provide distances to way points.  Although as you get closer to your destination, the lights flash faster, you do not know how far you are from your destination.  

Set the HomeStar GPS at important way-points

In conclusion, I found that the HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS was exactly what it promised - a super small, simple to use, way point storing GPS that will guide you through snow, dark, or fog to your destination.  I recommend it be carried as a back up safety feature by backcountry users.  Set the three waypoints at spaced-out places along your journey, so if lost, you can easily return to a site.  

Please leave comments or questions below...

HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Riding above the Clouds - Silcox Hut, Mt. Hood

View of clouds from Silcox Hut, Mt. Hood, Oregon
When Matt and I got engaged this fall, we looked for a venue that would fit our personality.

Where should two self-proclaimed alpinists get married?  

On top of a mountain of course!  

Even Grandma got on the Snowcat

Since my roots and family are in Oregon, we chose to get married on Mt. Hood - Oregon's tallest peak.  We found that the historic Timberline Lodge offers weddings at their warming hut at 7,000 feet at the quaint and cozy Silcox Hut.  To get to the location, the guests and wedding party will take a Snowcat machine from the lodge (6,000 feet) up an icy slope to the 7,000 feet elevation, above the clouds.  This spring, we will marry on the mountain slope - a perfect place for a mountain-loving couple.  

Since I was visiting family for Christmas, I decided to take the trip up to the lodge and hut to see the venue and discuss details.  Steve- the hut manager and our Snowcat driver - has run the hut for 20 years and provided an excellent experience.  If you wondering how you can visit this magical place - see the information below...

Staying at Silcox
Silcox is an overnight destination mountain hut available for groups (12 person min). Cost ranges from $140-$180 a person per night and includes your Snowcat ride to and from the hut, as well as delicious family style breakfast and dinner.  The hut books up fast, so reservations should be made months ahead of time.  It is also available non-overnight functions like weddings and parties.  More information can be found at the Timberline Lodge website.

Enjoying the sun

Roaring Fire in Silcox Hut
Snowcat at Silcox Hut
Please leave comments and questions below...