Thursday, October 31, 2013

Farm to Table - Exploring Southern New Hampshire

Apple picking in NH
Matt and I decided to spend a Sunday morning exploring some local farms in Southern New Hampshire.  We drove to the town of Lee (1 hour, 20 minutes from Boston and 25 minutes from Exeter, NH) where we visited two farms - an apple orchard and a winery.  We wrapped up the date with a late lunch at the Stone Church Pub in Newmarket, NH. 

Here is how to recreate this adventure...

One peck bag at DeMerrit Farms

DeMerrit Farms - DeMerrit Farms is located on Rt. 155 in Lee, New Hampshire.  It is a GREAT place to visit if you have children and families because they have a country store, petting
zoo, playground, wagon rides, and around Halloween - a popular haunted house (in evenings) called "Haunted Overload".  Even though we don't have kids, we still loved walking through the orchard, picking apples, and petting the goats.  The staff was very knowledgeable and I was able to get a Peck bag and fill it for $15.95.  We got a diversity of apples including Honey Crisp, Empire, Cortland, Red Rome, and more!  So far, I've enjoyed them in pies, crisp, and just snacking.  I highly recommend a trip to DeMerrit Farms.

Moonshine from Flag Hill 
Flag Hill Winery and Distillery - Flag Hill is the largest winery in New
Hampshire (although very small by West Coast standards).  It is also located on Rt 155 in Lee, New Hampshire, and about 5 miles from DeMerrit Farms.  Flag Hill is also a distillery.  Matt and I arrived around 11:30 am and participated in a tour of the facility ($5 charge), followed by a tasting.  They allow you to taste up to six of their wines or spirits.  They make everything from "White Mountain Moonshine" to "Cranberry Liquor" to classic whites and reds.  The tour was enjoyable and the staff knowledgeable and friendly.  I have to admit, I left with a few bottles in my hand.  The property is beautiful and a must see if you are touring Southern New Hampshire.

Inside of Stone Church
The Stone Church - The Stone Church is just what it sounds like - an old church - except this church has been converted into a pub and music venue.  Their motto is "Craft Beer.  Live Music."  On this Sunday afternoon, we watch a German brass band play for their Octoberfest celebration while enjoying a delicious lunch off their pub menu and craft beers.  I highly recommend the venue for good music, food, and drink.  One note - beers are on the pricey side - at least $6 a brew.

We had a wonderful day exploring some local farms and wrapping up with music and lunch at the Stone Church.  It just goes to show that you don't have to travel far from home to find adventures. 

fallen apples

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Katahdin Climb

Thru-hiker "Belch" took this photo of us on the summit.
Having worked as a hiking guide, outdoor blogger, and  New England adventurer, I am frequently asked,
"Have you hiked Katahdin?" 
I usually blush and mumble "No, but I really want to." 

Mt. Katahdin is the tallest mountain in Maine and arguably one of the most exciting and challenging climbs in New England.  So when my adventurer guide friend, Sarah, asked if I wanted to join her on her first Katahdin climb, I jumped at the opportunity...and into her Civic.  From the complicated permitting process, to the epic climb up to the Abol trail, to the night hike down the Hunt trail, we loved our adventure from start to finish. 

Fall leaves were vivid in Northern Maine

Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure:  Katahdin Climb, Baxter State Park, ME. 

Getting there:  One of the reasons I'd never adventurered to Katahdin before is, it is a looooong drive to get there.  Mt. Katahdin is located in Baxter State Park.  It was a five hour drive from North Conway, NH.  To get there, take I-95 in Maine to Millinocket.  From here, follow signs to Baxter State Park.  Since we couldn't secure camping reservations inside the park, we camped at Penobscot Outdoor Center which is located just a few miles out of Millinocket and only two miles from the South entrance to Baxter. 

Trail:  There are multiple trails to Baxter Peak (highest peak on Mt. Katahdin).  You need a permit to park at the trailhead to any of them.  As a result, Sarah and I were at the mercy of whichever
Up Abol Trail/
trailhead permits were still available three days before our hike.  Originally, we wanted to hike Saturday and include the treacherous "Knife's Edge" into our adventure, however, due to our last minute planning, the only reservations available was on Sunday at the Abol campground trailhead.  We showed up at the park entrance at 8 am with our reservation in hand.  Unfortunately, we failed to read the fine print, and found out that after 7:05 am, all parking reservations were given away to other visitors.  NO!!!!!!  Fortunately, the hiking gods were smiling down on us, because there were just two permits left - this time for the Katahdin Spring campground and Hunt trailhead.  We grabbed our spot and headed to the trailhead.

heart cairn - photo by Sarah Audsley
Wanting to try a loop, we parked at Katahdin Spring and walked/hitched a ride down the 2 mile road to the Abol campground trailhead.  We signed in at the trailhead and headed up the Abol trail.  This trail is amazing!  After a half hour through the birch forest, we reached the slide.  Here, we spent 2 hours climbing up rock and boulder - ascending 3,000 feet in only 1.3 miles.  The climb gave us beautiful views of the valley below and through a bank of clouds to the plateau.  We took a break for lunch at the junctions of Abol and Hunt, then continued onto the Hunt trail/AT for the last mile to the summit of Baxter Peak.

The views were AMAZING at the summit.  On one side we got views of Chimney Pond, Owls Peak, and the Knife's Edge, and on the other, an ocean of clouds.  We were welcomed by a rowdy group of thru-hikers who had just finished their 6 month trek along the AT.  It was wonderful to see them celebrate the end of their journey and join in on the merriment. 

Sarah enjoys a snack break at the summit.  Looking at knifes edge.
After thirty minutes of summit awe and celebration, we descended on the Hunt trail back to our car.  This trail is one of the longer ones from Baxter peak (5.2 mi), and includes a technical 3 mile stretch down a rocky and exposed ridgeline.  The views were amazing as we lowered ourselves onto large granite boulders.  We caught the sunset as we dropped below tree-line into the forest where we finished the last couple miles in the dark - using our headlamps to find our way.  By the end of the hike we were exhausted and happy.  The day was a wonderful adventure filled with excitement and beauty. 

Hunt Trail/ Last mile of the AT

Difficulty Level:  Strenuous and Challenging!  The Abol trail was steep and challenging with many large boulders and straight up. The Hunt Trail was technical with large rock steps.  The Hunt Trail was also highly exposed and would be dangerous if the weather was bad. 

Distance:  + 9 miles. 11 hours including breaks.


Summit of Baxter Peak.  Photo by Sarah Audsley.
I think my biggest piece of advice is follow the first rule of Leave No Trace:  PLAN AHEAD AND
BE PREPARED!  This comes down to planning way in advance for trail and camping, bringing proper gear, knowing your route, and your capabilities.  If you follow this, you are bound to have a great trip.

Trail Permits - Reserve your permit in advance (you are allowed up to 2 weeks prior). Camping permits can be made up to 4 months in advance.  We were lucky to obtain a parking spot reservation with only one day's notice but didn't get the trail we wanted.  Read the fine print!  You will lose your parking permit if you don't get there by 7:05 am!  This happened to us and we were soooo lucky that we still got to hike!

Camping at Penobscot Outdoor Center

Camping - We didn't reserve in time to camp in the park, but we really enjoyed camping at Penobscot Outdoor Center.  The campground offers wooded, lakeside tent site, cabin rentals, and canvas tent rentals. They have hot showers, bathrooms, and free canoe rental.  The price was right (13 dollars a person per night) and was only 2 miles from the park's southern entrance.  Great place!

Hiking - This is a really challenging hike.  In fact, Sarah - an experienced guide - said it might be the most challenging hike she's ever done.  This is because the large rocks and steep elevation gain makes it just take a long time.  It's not good for someone who has bad knees or inexperienced. 
Hunt trail near summit

Gear - It's a long hike.  Bring plenty of water - I drank three liters and it was a cool day!!  Summer, I would need even more.  Bring lots of food, protection from the sun (lots of exposure on the hike), first aid kit, compass, map (and knowledge of how to use it), layered clothing, and a head lamp. 

Mt. Katahdin was an amazing experience.  Sarah and I experienced thrilling hiking, outstanding fall weather, and unforgettable views. 

Looking up the Hunt trail.

Please leave comments and questions below!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

5 Best Fall Foliage Hikes in the White Mountains

View from The Flume Gorge Hike.  Photo by Bruce Hansen
New Hampshire is well known for its beautiful scenery and stunning fall foliage.  Crimson and bronze leafs bring throngs of tourists to the Granite State.  Whether you're a Tough Mountain Climber or a Leisurely Nature Wanderer, this state has a foliage hike for you!  Here are the 5 best fall foliage hikes in the White Mountains for ANY ability level. 

Short and Easy

Flume Gorge Trail, Photo by Bruce Hansen
Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park - This two mile loop leaves from the Flume Visitor Center on I-93 in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire.  The easy trail offers views of the narrow gorge, brooks, and White Mountain views.  The walk also takes you through two iconic covered bridges, and over the pristine Pemigewasset River.  Although it is an "easy" hike by White Mountain standards, there are uphill portions, including stairs.  Parking fills quickly on weekends, and visitors should be aware that there is a cost - $15 per adult and $12 a child.  Still, the price tag is worth the view you get on this iconic mountain trail. 

Elephant Head, Crawford Notch State Park - This short walk offers a quick (and slightly steep) uphill stroll to the top of Elephant Head.  I recommend parking at the AMC Highland Center, crossing Rt 302 on foot, and walking around Saco "Lake" Trail (0.3 mile) first.  This connects to the Elephant Head Spur (0.1 mile).  From the top of the "head",  you get a view down the scenic notch.  This is a perfect place for a picnic.  Be aware, rock climbers climb the face below, so don't throw rocks or object over the cliff. 

Medium and Moderate

Summit of South Moat Mountain
South Moat Mountain, Conway - This 5.4 mile out-and-back hike takes you across streams, through forests of birch and maple, and summits the 2,770 ft bare peak of South Moat Mountain.  Since you never rise into the 3,000 foot boreal zone, the views from the summit are pure foliage bliss.  What's more, the last mile offers many viewpoints, where you can easily see the colorful forest valley below and surrounding White Mountain peaks.  To access the trailhead, drive north on Washington Street from Conway Village then take a left on Passaconaway Rd.  This turns into Dugway Rd.  The parking lot and trailhead is on the right.  There is a parking fee of $3 per car at the trailhead by cash/check. 

Hedgehog Mountain, UNH Trail
Hedgehog Mountain, Kancamangus Highway - This 4.8 mile hike leaves from the Downes Brook Parking Lot Trail on the south side of the Kancamangus Highway (Rt. 112).  Parking is $3 per car, per day.  Take the Downes Brook Trail to the UNH Trail.  This trail through hardwood forest, up ledges, and by water, offers beautiful views of the Sandwich Range as well as prime foliage forest.  It's also a loop trail - hard to find in the Whites!  Hedgehog summit is at 2,532 feet and there are multiple views on ledges along the way. 

Challenging and Longer

White Mountain Woods in Fall
Webster Cliff Trail, Crawford Notch State Park - This trail is stunning and the
perfect place to get continuous views of the multicolored Crawford Notch.  The cliff trail can be accessed on Rt. 302, just across the Arethusa Falls trailhead.  The Webster Cliff Trail (AT) scrambles a mile to the cliff and traverses over a steep and rocky cliff for another 2 miles.  This provides uncomparable views of Crawford Notch and surrounding mountains.  Hikers summit Mt Webster (3910 ft) before reaching a cut-off back to the road.  I like to continue on the AT, hiking 1.3 miles to summit Mt. Jackson (4052 ft), before dropping back to 302 on the Webster-Jackson Trail.  Hikers then have to decide if they are going return back the way they came or continue on the 2.5 miles to the AMC Highland Center where you'll need to get a ride back to your car.  As a straight hike from the trailhead to the Highland Center, it is 6.9 miles, but is much more when hiking out and back. 

For more information on fall hiking, check out former fall posts:

Fabulous Fall Foliage Family Friendly Hikes

Top Ten Things To Pack For a Fall Hike

Fall is a great time to avoid some of the 4,000 footers that take you into the evergreen-populated "boreal" zone and stick to some of the colorful lower peaks where maples, birch, and beech leaves are red, yellow, and orange. Please leave comments and questions below....

Franconia - Flume Gorge Trail