For the best foliage hikes, I often return to the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), which has the perfect mix of pine and deciduous forest, displayed in sunny tiers, to boost the powerful colors of fall in New England. Albany Mountain (1,930 ft) in south Oxford county, near Bethel, on the eastern edge of WMNF, is a relatively easy climb for the quality of its views, which include a variety of fall colors spread across the forests, lakes, and hills leading to the White Mountains to the west. The hike is fully described in the Maine Mountain Guide, and downloadable maps are available from the site of the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the WMNF. A small parking area with a trail map and information kiosk is located off Crocker Pond Road in WMNF. From here, the yellow-blazed trail led through a yellow, green and orange October forest. Strategically placed rocks bridged small streams, and cut swaths on the margins let light into the surrounding forest.Continue reading
Peary Mountain (958 ft) in Brownfield, Maine, is named for Arctic explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary, Sr., a resident of neighboring Fryeburg from 1878 to 1879. The trailhead for this easy to moderate hike is located in Brownfield, Maine, off Route 113. The Maine Mountain Guide has a full description of this hike – I used the AllTrails app to follow the path. Follow Farnsworth Road about 1.3 miles from Route 113 to a small dirt/grass parking area on the right side of the road, just before a one-lane bridge over the Little Saco River. In the summer, this can also be reached from the west (Fryeburg) side, but the road can be closed in winter months.Continue reading
The Baldfaces (North and South) are a difficult but rewarding hike just over the (Maine) border in Chatham, NH, part of the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). I used the Baldface Circle Trail, with stops at the spur for Emerald Pool, and a short diversion through Chandler Gorge, for a challenging 10.1 mile clockwise “lollipop” loop that took a little under five hours, and hit the peaks of South Baldface (3,570 ft) and North Baldface (3,610 ft). To navigate, I used my well-worn AMC White Mountain Guide, with the Baldface Loop on Map 5. A digital map is also available on the WMNF U.S. Forest Service site. The well-maintained parking area (with toilets) is located on NH route 113 in Chatham, with parking for approximately fifteen cars, and is usually full on summer days and weekends.Continue reading
The Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve consists of over 800 acres in Lovell, Maine, preserved and maintained for public use by the Greater Lovell Land Trust (GLLT) – see GLLT map here. A detailed description of trails is also available in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. While snowmobiles are allowed in winter on marked trails, I didn’t see any on the sunny February Sunday I visited. I followed an easy to moderate (double, triple?) lollipop loop for about 4.6 miles (appx 2 hours, 886 feet of elevation gain), summiting Amos Mountain (955 ft) and Whiting Hill (801 ft) via the Blue, Orange, Yellow and Red trails.
From the (well-plowed) parking lot on Slab City Road, it is a short downhill walk to the Blue Trail, past the southern outlet of Heald Pond. Informational kiosks are at the parking area and at the beginning of the Blue Trail, additionally, small placards at trail intersections, each with a laminated trail map, make navigation self-correcting (“You Are Here” is difficult to screw up).
I wore snowshoes the entire route, and once off the snowmobile trail, was breaking trail through the deep, crusty snow. While the snowshoes made for enhanced mobility, the rasp and stomp of my steps eliminated my chances of seeing much wildlife. I was lucky enough to see a large pileated woodpecker, and the signs in the snow of others – the soft tread of foxes, the larger, circling tread of coyotes, the bouncing tread of deer, and the deeper, larger crescents left by moose.
I bypassed Whiting Hill on the way out, sticking to the west shore of Heald Pond on the Red Dot Trail, and clambering down the Otter Rocks Spur briefly to look at the frozen lake, and the sole visible ice fishing shack. As I was solo, wearing snowshoes, and shoreline ice is often the most treacherous, I didn’t venture out on the frozen pond. Continuing gradually uphill, I reached the intersection with the Chestnut Trail (blue blazes), and turned left, towards the Heritage Loop Trail (orange blazes), and a broad circle of the summit of Amos Mountain.
To the west of the summit is a viewpoint, just short of the Rogers Family Trail (blue blazes), with views of the Whites, with Mt. Washington as a centerpiece. The wooded summit of Amos Mountain contains rock cairns and a bench, with views to the southwest.
I descended Amos Mountain to the Hemlock Loop Trail, and a small picnic area, then headed towards Whiting Hill and its loop back to the start of the trail and the parking area. Whiting Hall has a more open summit, with views to the West of Kezar Lake and the White Mountains beyond, and an easy downhill walk ended at Slab City Road.
This would also be a beautiful fall hike, but I enjoyed having the place mostly to myself in the snow. Parking areas on Route 5 and Heald Pond Road can also be used to shorten the hike for children or the less mobile – see the GLLT map for locations. This Reserve is not far from Sabattus Mountain, and the post-hike stops available in Lovell are the same – the Center Lovell Market, for picnic supplies and a restaurant, and (after checking seasonal hours) Ebenezer’s Pub for food and Belgian beer.
In January 2020, I hiked Mount Tom (1,073 ft) via the West Ridge Trail, an approximately 3.5 mile out-and-back from the parking lot for Mount Tom Preserve at Menotomy Road in Fryeburg, which took about an hour and fifteen minutes. Like Hawk Mountain and Mount Tire’m, which I did earlier the same day, this is a short but rewarding Oxford Hills hike. This can also be done as an approximately 4-mile loop hike by continuing after the summit to the Mount Tom Trail, then returning south on Menotomy Road, which is usually relatively quiet, to the start point.
This parking lot, and the Preserve, which includes the summit, are maintained by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). TNC’s excellent description of the Preserve follows:
Mt. Tom Preserve protects a silver and red maple floodplain along the Saco River, and includes the rocky summit of Mount Tom at 1,040 feet in elevation. The 995-acre preserve spans the Saco River and boasts over 3,500 feet of river frontage. Several day-use hiking trails provide recreational opportunities, as does as a 1.14 mile seasonal snowmobile trail that is part of a larger network maintained by the Interstate Sno-goers. Visitors can summit Mt. Tom, canoe along the Saco River, or just walk through the beautiful forests!
River terrace forests support clean water for resident native fish, invertebrates, and other animals that use river beaches. The floodplains provide excellent habitat for spotted salamanders and several species of turtles, with a lush understory of sensitive fern and royal fern. Two regionally rare birds–the golden eagle and peregrine falcon–have been regularly sighted near the rocky cliffs of Mt. Tom, during the breeding season. Two rare plants–the fern-leaved false foxglove and smooth sandwort–have also been found within the dry oak-hickory forest on the south facing slope of the mountain, and old eastern red cedars dot the hillside.
The West Ridge Trail, marked by white blazes and small TNC emblems, rolls across that floodplain, crossing small brooks, passing ghostly birches and large rock formations, until becoming steep about a mile in.
The trail ascends the ridge, with frequent views through clearings in the trees, to meet the Mount Tom Trail, at which point, it turns right, and shortly thereafter, reaches the summit and its rocky ledges and views.
The descent in winter was easy, with microspikes, and I saw several other groups, all with dogs, ascending the trail on my way back. An added benefit in winter was the lack of bugs, which would be omnipresent in the late spring and early summer in the first portion of the trail. This hike may be challenging for very young or out-of-condition hikers, but presents an easy to moderate walk in the woods, with views to the south of the Saco River Valley.
Mt. Cutler (1,232 ft.), part of a newly established Mt. Cutler Park and Conservation Area, is a relatively short hike in Hiram, Maine, with impressive views along the way, and multiple options for shorter and longer walks along five miles of trails (here is a detailed map and guide). Additionally, in the new 11th edition of the Maine Mountain Guide, Mt. Cutler gets its own map.
The direct route is the Barnes Trail, marked with red blazes, which ascends from a parking area by the former railroad depot off Mountain View Road, up through overgrown Merrill Park, where a (shallow) abandoned gold mine can be accessed from a side trail to the left. The trail quickly ascends up rocky ledges to points overlooking Hiram and the Saco River below.
The ridge walk contains great views and blueberries in the summer. The Barnes Trail does not extend to the actual summit of Mt. Cutler, which is on private land (there is currently no marked trail to the summit, but respectful bushwhacking to it is apparently ok), and instead turns hard left at the notch below the summit, where it meets the Saco Ridge Trail, completing the loop down to the parking area.
In addition to the parking area by the Barnes Trail, a second parking area is planned to be constructed by July 2019, with capacity for twenty vehicles, at the trailhead for the North Trail (blue-paint blazes) on Hiram Hill Road. This trail connects with the Moraine Trail, which climbs a glacial moraine, consisting of rock and other debris pushed into a ridge by a glacier (for those familiar with the Maine Ice Age Trail Downeast, check out this post on sites for western Maine’s Ice Age Trail). North Trail also connects with the White Flag Trail, which joins the Barnes Trail near the front ledges.
(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)
Managing risk in the outdoors, particularly that of winter in the White Mountains, requires learning hard lessons. Focusing on one tragedy can have its pitfalls, but Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova by Ty Gagne (TMC Books, 2017) is respectful of that tragedy, avoids sensationalism, and expands in scope to use the narrative as a guideline for the analysis of risk.
Gagne’s book follows the ill-fated attempt of the Northern Presidential traverse by thirty-two year-old Kate Matrosova in February 2015, and the ensuing rescue and ultimately, recovery operation. Gagne presents a scrupulously researched narrative and timeline of events, which is interspersed with maps, drawings, and analysis. The level of detail is astounding, and simultaneously gives the reader a bird’s-eye view of the unfolding drama along with granular details about the people on the ground.
We see Matrosova’s movements in comparison to other hiking groups in the White Mountains on the same day, and what the would-be rescuers were thinking, feeling, even eating. To his credit, Gagne keeps the reader hoping for a different outcome for Matrosova throughout the book, even though the ending is already known. All this detail leads to the central question of the book: if someone this fit and prepared lost her life, what measures can be taken to ensure one’s own safety? Gagne addresses Matrosova’s planned route:
In establishing bailout points and packing cell and satellite phones, a GPS device, a map, and a personal locator beacon, Matrosova is acknowledging the existence of risk on the traverse. She has established a risk management plan. But given her inexperience in the White Mountains, is her plan comprehensive enough to address the multitude of exposures that exist there, especially in winter?
After explaining the steps to an effective risk management plan, Gagne goes on:
A key to all this is timing. Even with a well-developed risk management strategy and the ability to implement it effectively, Matrosova will have to decide if and when to trigger alterations to her original plan. In the end, it will be the timing of her decisions that will make all the difference.
Gagne describes this timing, including the rapidly worsening weather, and subsequent warnings issued by the Mount Washington Observatory after Matrosova had already embarked on her hike. As Matrosova slowly falls behind her self-imposed timeline, her challenges become more and more complex, and Gagne explores the biases that may have factored into her decision-making. Whatever the reason, these decisions found her exhausted, frostbitten, and facing “an impenetrable wall of wind,” on Mt. Adams, “80-plus-mph headwinds,” that caused her to turn back, at a point that was too late to save her own life.
In the background of this heartbreaking human drama, Gagne illustrates the science of survival, with details regarding the functioning of the locator beacon, the progression of hypothermia, the record-setting extreme weather, and tactics and techniques of Search And Rescue (SAR) personnel.
Gagne fittingly ends the book with an account of his own February 2016 anniversary hike to where Matrosova’s body was eventually found, guided by her GPS track, and by one of her would-be rescuers. The conditions are different, far milder, and Gagne and his companion are together, well-prepared and equipped, but the ghost of loss still lingers on the periphery: “As I turn my back to the col and make my way down, I say my goodbyes to Kate.”
(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)
Connecting kids with nature is a simple matter of allowing that inevitable relationship to happen. The difficult part is deciding what boundaries to set, letting go, and helping children deal with the unexpected challenges they may encounter. How to do that? One path is described in Up – A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, by Patricia Ellis Herr (Broadway Paperbacks, 2012) , the story of Patricia Ellis Herr and her daughters Alex and Sage, and the quest of her older daughter Alex, then five, to summit all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s peaks over four thousand feet before Alex turned seven.
Herr begins the book with an anecdote about a failed attempt to summit Mt. Tom, thwarted by a lightning storm. This story sets the tone for the book: the weather forced Herr to make tough calls, and to explain her rationale for those decisions and the results to her daughters, including the realization that things can happen for which it can be impossible to prepare. Also, there was chocolate at the end.
The idea to bag all of New Hampshire’s four thousand footers was born following another hike, this one of Mount Tecumseh in April 2008, when Herr and her daughters eventually turned back, unprepared for the deep snow at higher elevations. Herr then researched the appropriate hiking gear and preparation, and they returned to summit Tecumseh that June, unknowingly beginning Alex’s quest.
During the peakbagging journey, they encounter unexpected obstacles, including the fear of “stranger danger,” the preconceived notions of other hikers regarding women and young children, and an aggressive spruce grouse. Herr turns these challenges into teachable moments, and Alex quickly gains confidence, and even makes some converts.
Alex is clearly a unique child, and uses a fountain of energy to power up and down the mountains in the beginning. Herr brings Alex back to earth, however, with a lesson from Alex and Sage’s father, Hugh, who relates the story to the girls of how he lost his legs on Mount Washington in the winter of 1982. A rescuer was killed by an avalanche while looking for Hugh and his climbing partner, a mental burden still carried by Hugh. The story has the desired effect, and Alex learns to be more careful, and respect the danger inherent in the White Mountains. This comes in handy during the ensuing months, as Herr and Alex hike through the winter and spring seasons, and learn, “Real hikers know when to continue and when to turn back.”
By the time the family, by this time accompanied by well-wishers, summits peak number forty-eight, Mount Moosilauke, in August 2009, they have accomplished much more than the physical challenge. Herr and her daughters have had conversations along the way wrestling with existential questions, mortality, motherhood, gender roles, and societal expectations:
What matters now is that they know, from experience, that they can accomplish something big, something huge. What matters is that, for the rest of their lives, both my daughters understand that to reach a goal, they must put one foot in front of the other and persevere. They know that they must expect and prepare for challenges. They know to ignore the naysayers and, instead, to have faith in themselves and their abilities to learn what they need to know. Above all else, they know that little does not mean weak, that girls are indeed strong, and that practically anything is possible.
This winning book, punctuated by mountaintop photos and small, sweet moments, shares a family’s triumph, and illuminates the lessons inherent in nature, waiting there to be elucidated by a mindful parent.
(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)
Maine’s seasons are different than those of our neighbors to the south- sometimes the resolutions of the New Year are still buried under several feet of snow, even at the beginning of Daylight Savings. I believe it’s important to get outside in the winter either way, but this article will focus on planning for the traditional hiking season.
Step 1: Create a difficult, even unrealistic goal.
- How we did it in 2017: In the winter of 2016-2017, we decided to attempt the 100 Mile Wilderness. The difficulty of this task forced us to create a training schedule, and to prepare our gear and bodies one piece at a time for a “capstone” hike, so that we were not fully ready for it until we stepped onto the trail. The training then became part of the journey, instead of being a series of unrelated excursions. And we also had a blast doing it.
- How you can do it in 2018: Pick a goal, and plan for it. Check out this great article by Carey Kish on Ten Great Hikes You Should Do in 2018. Or this one, again from Maine Today, on 10 Brag-Worthy Hikes in New England. Pick one outside your comfort zone, something you haven’t done before. If you are a more experienced hiker or backpacker, do the same with longer, multi-day hikes. Try the Section Hiker blog for ideas. Great ideas in the area include Maine’s Bigelow Range, the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire, and even the Long Trail in Vermont. Or maybe you are tired of explaining why you have lived in Maine for X number of years, and never been to Katahdin’s summit. Make it challenging.
Step 2: Make yourself accountable, find a partner if you can, and lock in your plans.
- How we did it in 2017: Daughter and dad agreed on our training plan and final goal. Hiking together is fun. We told people (family, friends, co-workers, gear salespeople) we were going to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness together. That made it hard to back out. We also set aside vacation days for the attempt, and later, booked a Baxter State Park parking pass ahead of time for Katahdin. Planning is fun, too, and having these outdoor excursions to look forward to can be soothing, depending on your life situation and “day job.”
- How you can do it in 2018: Start with the end goal in mind, and back up to the current day, making incremental additions to your training plan. For accountability, book your arrangements early (vacation days, lodging, re-supply) so you are motivated to follow up on your investment. Put everything on a calendar. In general, buying a state park season pass is a good deal, and will prompt you to get out there. Maine’s is $55 for individuals, or $105 for a vehicle pass, and free for seniors. The White Mountain National Forest offers an annual pass for $30, and an annual household pass for $40. These passes also allow you to forgo the hassle of trying to find a pen and exact change at the many self-service kiosks at trailheads, and to support our great parks.
Step 3: Let experts do the work for you.
- How we did it in 2017: We devoured the books and blog posts we could find on the 100 Mile Wilderness (check this out), and purchased the Appalachian Mountain Club Guide to Maine, as well as the maps for the 100 Mile. For our training hikes, we consulted the Maine Mountain Guide and the White Mountain Guide (skip to Recommended Hikes, get in the car, and go).
- How you can do it in 2018: Buy the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and White Mountain Guide. Just do it. They come with maps, they are well-researched, portable, and can serve as a journal for hikes completed. Also, follow Philip Werner’s Section Hiker blog (mentioned above) and Carey Kish’s columns on Maine Today.com. Ask at Information Centers for actual information, and engage with park rangers and volunteers. In addition, join the Appalachian Mountain Club. It’s cheap, most of the membership fee is tax deductible, it supports trails, and they sponsor a ton of group activities/hikes for all skill levels. Follow the people above on Twitter to get updates and ideas, as well as publications like Backpacker Magazine and Outside, which also has an excellent podcast series.
Step 4: If your plans are disrupted, do “something” anyway.
- How we did it in 2017: We couldn’t always get out on the trail. School, work, travel, injuries, commitments came up that kept us out of the woods. But we figured out ways to work through. Daughter played basketball, and dad focused on weight room exercises (lunges, box jumps, squats) that strengthened legs for the terrain of the 100 Mile. We skied. On a couple weekends we couldn’t hike, or were out of town somewhere, we signed up for several 5K road races – try Running In The USA. The way to get better at doing hard things is to do hard things. Just do something.
- How you can do it in 2018: Shorter hikes can be very rewarding when time is not on your side. Try a big-payoff one like Burnt Meadow Mountain or Pleasant Mountain, steep hikes with great views. Try trail running, which is just hiking’s skinnier cousin. There are trail running groups throughout Maine. Baxter Outdoors does a great race series, which might take you to some places you haven’t been, help you meet some like-minded people, benefit charity, and get some free beer. Here are some tips to get ready for hiking with a pack from Backpacker Magazine. Understand your limits, particularly with an injury, but focus on the things that you can do. For example, dad broke his right wrist descending Katahdin in September 2017, and this precluded a lot of activities, but still allowed him to hike, and as a result he developed more dexterity in his left hand. A caveat: all these things help, but hiking with a pack seems to be a singular exercise, and the best way to get better at hiking is to hike (see above regarding hard things).
Step 5: Let the momentum propel you to staying on the path.
How we did it in 2017: Despite our difficulties at the end of the 100 Mile attempt, we were both invigorated by the hiking we’d done, and talked about more goals. Daughter had never climbed Mt. Washington or Katahdin, and felt strong after our training. It was only mid-July, so the good times we’d had kept us hiking, and we completed both of these mountains, as well as some great hikes in between. We started taking more pictures, and talked about capturing our adventures in this blog, which we began last fall, right after our Katahdin hike.
How you can do it in 2018: Use the aforementioned accountability to keep you going, locked in to activities, and check in with people who are doing the same. You will feel stronger each time you get out there, and maybe your goals will change by the time you hit your big hike. You will see intriguing side trails and places along the way. If you are into social media, use it to catalog your progress. You won’t find any “look at me shirtless doing yoga on top of a mountain” selfies on this blog, but if that’s your thing, and helps you… Either way you will have fun and get outside.
On July 23, 2017 we hiked Mt. Washington (6,288 feet) from the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and the Lion Head Trail (4.3 miles). The best road map for this strenuous hike is the AMC White Mountain Guide, which contains maps and trail descriptions. The Pinkham Notch Visitor Center also sells maps for a nominal fee, has free advice and info, and a scale model of the mountain and its trails.
Having attempted the 100 Mile Wilderness two weeks earlier, we now set our sights on Katahdin later in the summer, and focused on getting in some climbing to prepare for this capstone hike. We packed light, though, and focused on water and snacks. Dad carried a pack with clothing and essentials, and daughter used a small Camelbak pack that held a water bladder and not much else.
Knowing that the parking lot and the trail would be busy on a Sunday in the summer, we got an early start, signing the trail log and beginning our hike before 7 am. Still, we were not the first ones to hike the mountain that day, because a scary fit guy wearing no gear came running hard down the trail, having already been to the top.
About 0.3 miles up, we stopped to take a picture of Crystal Cascade. The next two miles were a steady climb upward on a wide, rocky trail. We shed some layers as the sun rose higher in the sky, then took the right-hand turn onto the Lion Head Trail.
The trail became a lot steeper as we approached the edge of the tree line. We took a break shortly after clearing the tree line to apply sunscreen and eat some peanut butter M&Ms, a favorite of ours. Hiking a mountain with such light packs seemed easy, after our 100 Mile ordeal.
The open climb and bright summer morning gave us excellent views of Tuckerman Ravine below. We also paused several times to admire the foliage in an area close to the Alpine Garden Trail.
There is so much more to see, and this is a great video describing some of the varieties of plants and flowers in the Alpine Garden.
The final climb to the summit, .4 miles, which seemed to go straight up, with no end in sight, ended abruptly at the parking lot near the summit. This has always seemed a strange juxtaposition, to be immersed in nature, then to have so much commerce at the top of New England’s highest peak, but we also enjoyed the opportunity to buy a chili dog and slices of pizza in the snack bar. For round-trip hikers, there are restrooms, as well, and water points to refill for the descent.
We made the decision to purchase tickets for the van shuttle back down to the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, rather than hiking the descent, as daughter was fighting a headache, and we had done the fun part of the climb already. The price was reasonable ($31 for dad, $13 for daughter), and included a pass to the Mt. Washington weather museum, which we visited while waiting for our scheduled van. The moral of the stories contained in the museum seemed to be: be careful on Mt. Washington in the winter. Daughter purchased a plush moose she instantly named Tuckerman, and a clever cat-themed t-shirt (“The Meow-ntains are calling, and I must go”).
You can see how volatile the weather can be from the featured image at the top of this post – immediately above is a photo from dad’s summit in June 2016, with better visibility. Dad usually climbs Mt. Washington once per summer, via the Tuckerman Ravine or Lion Head routes.
After a short jaunt down the auto road in the van, and back to our car at Pinkham Notch, we drove the 15 minutes south to Jackson, NH, where we cooled off in Jackson Falls and picked blueberries by the side of the river to end the day.