Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pemigewasset One Night Backpack

Summit of Mt. Garfield, White Mountains
Jenny and I took off for a early fall weekend in the White Mountains.  Only having the typical work weekend, we searched for a one night backpack that would offer moderate terrain, AMC shelter, and a summit view.  Our prescription was filled by a one-night backpack up the Mt. Garfield trail.  This 10 mile round trip out-and-back hike took us through a unique hemlock forest, along rivers, and to one of the best views in the Whites - the summit of Mt. Garfield. 

Here is how to recreate this adventure...  
Hemlock Forest - first mile of trail

Adventure:  Mt. Garfield One Night Backpack

Getting there:  The trailhead to Mt. Garfield Trail is located off Route 3 in Bethlehem, NH.  We drove up I-93 through Franconia Notch State Park and took exit 35.  From here, we took Route 3 about 5 miles to the first right.  This is the Gale River Loop Road.  Take the loop road (closed in winter) about 1-2 two miles to the trailhead parking area.  The trailhead is marked by a "hiker" sign and trail map.  There is no charge for parking and there are no bathrooms at the trailhead. 

Trail: This is the perfect 4,000-footer for a timid backpacker, family, or person with bad knees.  The hike lacks many of the rocky climbs and steep ledges of its other Presidential counterparts.  The trail begins by climbing a gentle, needle-padded trail through a forest of large hemlocks.  I love this part of the trail because it reminds me of the Oregon trails of my childhood.  The trail here is easy and pleasant.  At around 2 miles, you have a fun little river crossing.  On the way up, Jenny and I easily crossed the gently brook, but after a night of torrential downpour, we had a hard time finding a path back across.  As a result, we got some wet toes, but it made a fun little challenge. 
Stream Crossing on Garfield Trail

After the river-crossing, the trail ascends gently and easily through the typical hardwood forest of New England.  The trail is even and steady - with a few stones in the trail but nothing horrible.  The last 0.2 mile of the hike is really the only part I'd call "moderately challenging".  Here, you reach the junction of Mt. Garfield trail and the Garfield Ridge Trail (AT).  Jenny and I dropped our packs and scurried up the last 0.2 miles to the summit of Garfield.  This bare peak at 4,500 ft offers 360 degree views of the Pemigewasset, or "Pemi" wilderness.  To the east, the Bonds, scraped and scuffed by rock and glacier, give me a glimpse of one of my favorite White Mountain Hikes.  To the west, the Franconia Ridge rises magnificent, with many of the tallest peaks in the area.  In the center of the bowl is Owl's Head Peak - another one of the beloved 4,000 footers. Lastly, to the northeast, you can even get a glimpse of the summit of Mt. Washington. 

View from summit of Mt. Garfield - Pemi Wilderness
Jenny and I enjoyed a reward of "trail mix cookies" on the summit, took photos, and reveled in the view.  We sought shelter behind the rocks and in the old foundation of a fire tower since wind gusts were reaching 70 mph!

After our well deserved break, we descended back to the AT junction, grabbed out packs, and detoured onto the Garfield Ridge Trail.  This rocky path, takes you down another 0.2 miles to the Garfield Ridge Campsite where we spent the night. 

Our morning hike was just the reverse of our previous day, taking us back down the 5 miles of the Mt. Garfield trail to the parking lot. 

This is an easy to moderate trail - and in my opinion, the easiest 4,000 footer ascent in the White Mountains (although not the shortest).  It was the perfect pick for a leisurely hike to a magnificent view. 

70 mph gust winds at summit
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate - the only moderately challenging section is the last quarter mile
to the summit. 

Distance:  5 miles to summit/ Total backpack was about 11 miles. 


Trail - This is an easy to moderate trail.  I recommend this as an excellent first time backpacking trip for someone looking to get into the hobby.

The stream crossing was probably the most challenging part on the rainy descent.  It was very helpful to have trekking poles here to steady myself across. 

Campsite - The Garfield Ridge Campsite is excellent.  This large AMC site offers tent-platforms, views, water, bear box, privy, and a superb four-sided shelter.  Jenny and I decided to stay in the shelter to reduce pack weight and avoid the predicted evening storm.  We were very comfortable inside - sharing the space with eight other people.  We loved the experience of meeting the other hikers.  One group of over-50-year-old-men were tackling the Pemi Loop, while the other group of the three were from upstate NY and had decided to forgo the Adirondacks to experience their first White Mountain hike. 
Comfy Hiker Shelter at Garfield Ridge Campsite

The Garfield site is manned by an AMC shelter caretaker through Columbus Day weekend, and we had to pay $8 a person to stay there.  Since we were visiting in September, the campsite had plenty of space for all, but having been there in August in the past, I can advise that the beloved site gets crowded and even fills up in the summer.  If you are planning on staying here, it's best to get to camp early or plan on finding alternative camping in the busy summer months. 

In the Pack - the shelter offers a privy, bear box, and water source, but first time visitors should be aware that the tentsite does not offer toilet paper nor "filtered water".  Plan on purifying your water with chemicals or by boiling, and bring some TP for the privy. 
This one mile backpack offered easy to moderate trail, great views, and comfy camping accommodations,- all while ascending over 3,000 feet and hiking over 10 miles.  It's a great choice for a weekend in the Whites. 

Another great friend trip in the wilderness!

Please leave comments and questions below!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Baldface Mountain Weekend Backpack

Matt summiting South Baldface Mountain

When the extra blanket makes it onto my bed and the window fans are removed from the windows, I know that that the best backpacking season has arrived. That magic time when the summer tourists have left the Granite State and the leaf peepers have yet to arrive, is in my opinion, the best time to go backpacking.  Matt and I decided to take advantage of the fair weather and weekend freedom to do a one night backpack on the Baldface Mountain Loop on the eastern edge of the White Mountain National Forest.

First Trail Junction of Baldface Loop Trail
Although I've hiked most of the peaks in the Whites, this pair - the North and South Baldface - had somehow escaped me.  Matt proposed the hike since the last time he tackled the hike was when he was 10 years old!

This one night backpack included everything a good backpacking trip should - stream crossings, 360 degree summit views, ridge walks, and a technical rock scramble.  I recommend this adventure for those hikers looking for a moderate to difficult one night backpack in the White Mountains with access to an AMC lean-to, privy, bare summits, and free parking. 

Here is how to recreate this adventure...
Follow the yellow blazes

Adventure:  One night backpacking in the Baldface Mountains, NH.

Getting there:  The trailhead to the Baldface Mountains is located in Conway, New Hampshire.  We took 302 to 113 North about 30 minutes from Center Conway and parked in the lot on the right across from the trail head. A brown hiking sign marks the Baldface Loop Trail.  Parking is free and there is an outhouse at the parking lot. 

Trail:  On the first day, Matt and I crossed Rt 113 from the parking lot and took the Baldface Circle Trail 0.7 miles to the first junction at Emerald Pool.  Here, we admired the pristine waters of the stream and ventured on about 2 miles the South Baldface Shelter. 

We arrived at the Shelter around 4:30 pm and were the only hikers there (another sign of fall!)  The campsite offers a generous lean-to as well as a few impacted tent sites.  The site also has a privy (bring your own toilet paper) and trickling stream for a water source. 

Tent set up in South Baldface Shelter
Matt and I set up our tent inside the lean-to and settled into our comfy, dry clothes.  A few hours later, another group of three showed up and joined us at the lean-to.  We all fit comfortably in the shelter and enjoyed swapping stories and conversing before settling down for the night.

In the morning, Matt and I arose and began our ascent up South Baldface.  This is where the trail got exciting!  The one mile section between the shelter and the summit of South Baldface is technical and challenging.  At one point, Matt and I even abandoned our strict LNT code, and bushwhacked through partial alpine vegetation in order to avoid the steep and wet rock scramble.  At points, the slab and rock reminded me of White Horse Ledge - a favorite multi-pitch climb in North Conway - except that when I tackle that section, I'm harnessed and roped up!

The summit of South Baldface was clear and magnificent.  Photos and words cannot express the beauty of the 360 degree views on this crystal-clear day.  I delighted in the clarity of two of my favorite and most recognizable peaks - Mt. Washington to the north and Mt. Chocorua to the south.  It was the perfect place for us to sit, soak up the scene, and enjoy our breakfast. 
Morning fog below from  Baldface Loop Trial

From here, we continued onward 2 miles to the summit of North Baldface peak, where another
majestic and clear view greeted us.  We took a short respite, then started our descent on the Bicknell Ridge Trail.  This 3.2 mile trail travels through ridgeline and forest, providing multiple views back at the ridge we had recently conquered.  It is a moderate trail that eventually evens out into an easy wooded stroll. 

At Emerald Pool, we reconnected with the Baldface Loop Trail with an adventurous river crossing and retraced the 0.7 miles to Rt 113 from the day before.

This one night backpack was a wonderful adventure for those looking for clear views, a peaceful lean-to, and a challenging hike.  

Challenging section from shelter to summit of S. Baldface
Difficulty: The difficulty depended on the section of hike we were tackling.  See below:
Baldface Loop Trail from 113 to Shelter- Easy to Moderate
Baldface Loop Trail from Shelter to South Baldface Summit- Challenging/Difficult
Baldface Loop Trail from South Baldface Summit to North Baldface Summit - Moderate
Bicknell Ridge Trail from North Baldface Trail to 113 - Easy to Moderate

Distance: 9.5 round trip.


Enjoying the view from South Baldface
Gear - Early to mid September can be chilly.  Matt used at 20 degree sleeping bag, but I chose a 30 degree below bag to ensure warmth.  We carried 3-4 liters of water each in addition to food, warm clothing, first aid, an AMC White Mountain Map #5, compass, rain gear, and a camera. 

More info - I recommend making sure to hike these peaks during clear, dry days.  Even though the summits are only 3570 ft and 3610 ft, the slabby rock and open peaks simulate a mountain far higher in altitude.  The steep, treacherous section near the summit of South Baldface is intimidating and could be extremely dangerous under poor conditions.  Take care.  I recommend hikers have a basic rock climbing/scrambling skills before attempting this section with a large pack.

Summit adventures

This is the perfect weekend backpack for hikers looking for open summit views, varied/challenging terrain, comfy AMC shelter camping, and no crowds.  Because this hike is not one of the peak-bagging 4,000 footers, it gets far less foot traffic.  It is the perfect one night trip for those seeking solitude in the natural beauty of the White Mountains.  Happy hiking.

Please leave questions and comments below...

River Crossing at Emerald Pool

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hampton Beach Bike Ride

Taking a break at Hampton Beach
If you have never been to Hampton Beach, it is a large, sandy beach located on New Hampshire's brief, but beautiful, coastline.  The area is well known for the extensive sandy beach, a bustling strip of arcades, t shirt shops, and fast food vendors.  It is the perfect place to people-watch, sunbathe, and party.  Try another beach if you are looking for a peaceful ocean stay.  This place is high energy and made for fun!

Matt and I decided to save the gas of driving to the Whites and find an adventure closer to home.  We hopped on our bikes and rode the 10 miles to Hampton Beach from our house in Exeter.  The bike ride was a pleasant one - mostly flat, with a few hills and fair weather.  Even though there isn't much of a bike lane/shoulder in Hampton, the trek is frequently traveled by cyclists and the traffic seemed accustomed to bikes on the road. 

If you are looking for a town-style bike ride to get exercise, food, and beach viewing, try this jaunt from Exeter to Hampton Beach and back.  It is the perfect adventure for able bodied adults who love weekend bike rides.  I don't recommend this one as a child's trek since there is a lot of traffic on the route and little shoulder for safety.

Here's how to recreate this adventure....

Stopping for friend dough on the boardwalk. 
The Adventure:  Hampton Beach Bike Ride

The Route:  It's a "straight shot" from Exeter to Hampton.  We took High Street/NH-27 from Exeter.  Continue on 27, and after a mile or so, High St turns into Hampton Rd.  Stay on this road, and as you cross over the I-95 overpass, NH-27 turns into Exeter Rd.  You will cross a light at Lafayette Rd and continue onto High Street.  This road brings you to the beach.  We turned right and rode along the beach on Ocean Blvd.  Along Ocean Blvd we made stops to grab fried dough, enjoy the beach, and on the way back, get a beverage.  We returned to Exeter the same way making our full bike ride over 20 miles.

Ending the day with a beverage and snack at
North Street Bar and Grill.
Difficulty:  The bike ride is easy as far as terrain goes.  Gradual hills make it a pleasant and easy ride.  I do not recommend it for families or children because the NH-27, although not too busy, does not have much of a shoulder and could be dangerous.

Distance:  10-11 miles one way, 20-28 round trip depending on your stay in Hampton and starting point in Exeter.

Recommendations:  Bring at least a liter of water per person, a rain jacket, and sun protection for the ride. Matt and I enjoyed friend dough at Fry Doe on Ocean Ave, and on the way back, an afternoon beverage and snack at North Street Bar and Grill on the corner of High Street and Ocean Ave.

We loved our break from hiking and enjoyed the exercise and fresh air the bike ride provided.

Please leave comments and questions below...

Shops on the strip at Hampton Beach, NH.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mt. Major is a Major Treat!

Brothers summit Mt. Major on their first mountain hike.

What better way to wrap up the summer than with a hike?  On this occasion, my friend Ingrid and I decided to hike Mt. Major - a tiny mountain (1750 ft) on the shores of the mighty Lake Winnipesaukee.  It was exciting having her nephews along.  The 5th grader and 8th grader had never hiked before and afterwards said that this adventure was the highlight of their summer!  The short mountain hike offered breathtaking views, varied terrain, and amphibious critters in the leaves.
Orange Trail begins as a gradual walk in the woods.

This is an perfect hike for first time hikers, families, and those looking for a short hike on a beautiful day.

Here is how you can recreate this adventure... 

Adventure:  Mt. Major hike in Alton, NH

Getting there:  I took Rt 16 North to the Alton exit.  Follow Rt. 11 West towards Alton.  The trailhead is a few miles past the village of Alton Bay.  The trailhead is a clearly marked parking lot on the left.  There is no parking fee and there are no bathrooms at the trailhead.
Climbing over and through
glacial erratics on Boulder Trail.

Trail:  There are two main trails to the summit from this trailhead.  We took the Boulder Loop Trail up and the Mt. Major Trail trail down.  This made a pleasant loop.  The Boulder Loop Trail (Orange Blaze) is slightly less traveled and the large boulders make it a better choice to navigate on the uphill.  This is accessed on the left side at the end of the parking lot.  
From the summit, we took the Mt. Major Trail (Blue Blaze) down.  At first there are some steep/slabby portions that would be very challenging if wet, but it gradually became easier as we descended.  Both trails travel through hardwood forest.  The boys enjoyed finding Eastern Newts and native frogs in the leaves and under rocks.  Evidence of large glacial erratic boulders dot the landscape and at some points provide a challenge on the trails.  Another point of interest was the rock shelter at the summit.  This was fun for kids to climb, and I imagine provides a relief to wind on blustery days.  
Both young and old enjoyed the trek up Mt. Major.  I'd love to do it again in the fall when the leaves are all changed!

Approaching the summit on the
Boulder Trail.
Difficulty:  This was an easy to moderate mountain hike.  Boulders and slab near the summit provided some challenges.  Those with poor knees should consider using trekking poles on the downhill.  It is a great hike for children because it provides unique and varied terrain with an awesome view.  Our 14 month old, 5th grader, and 8th grader all enjoyed it.  (The 14 month old was carried up.  :-) )  For more family friend hikes click "Family" on the Labels on the right.  

Distance:  The loop is about 3.9 miles round trip.  We did the hike in 2.5 hours which included a long lunch break at the summit.  

-  We (perhaps stupidly) visited this hike on Labor Day weekend.  When I arrived at the 50 spot (or more) parking lot at 10 am, all spots were already full.  By the time we left at 1:30 pm, parked cars lined the side of Rt 11 for a quarter mile.  This is a POPULAR hiking spot in summer and especially on holidays.  I recommend getting to the parking lot early and taking the less traveled Boulder Trail up to avoid crowds. Still, there was plenty of room for all.  As you can see in my photo below, don't expect a serene and peaceful summit.  Children, adults, and dogs socialized, ate, and played at the top of the mountain.  If you want a more peaceful experience, visit on a weekday and avoid the summer.  
Not-so-peaceful summit on summer holiday weekend.

- Bring at least 1 Liter of water per person, snacks, and appropriate hiking gear.  Even though it's a fairly short hike (3.9 miles), it's 1150 ft in elevation gain is enough to get your heart beating.  Take breaks and bring a windbreaker for the summit.  

The four of us really enjoyed this hike up Mt. Major.  From the summit we could see the tiny boats below zip through Lake Winnipesaukee and the tall White Mountains in the distance.  It was a joy hiking with two middle school boys on their first mountain climb.  They loved the experience.  This is the perfect family hike for first timers.  Enjoy!

The boys found newts and frogs!

Ingrid and I enjoy another hike together.

Please leave comments and questions below...