Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Misty Day On Mt Flume

We hadn't really planned to hike this weekend but with the promise of three days of yard and house work ahead a nice long day in the mountains seemed like a much better idea.  Our Monadnock hike a couple of weeks ago also had us craving more time on the trails and we hadn't been to the Whites since last fall.  It was definitely past time!  The forecast was a bit iffy but not bad.  We left home at 5:30am and headed north on a gray cloudy morning.  The nice thing about a day trip to NH in the middle of a holiday weekend is having the roads to ourselves - no Boston traffic today!  We were at Lincoln Woods and on the trail at 9:00.

The walk out along the East Branch on the Lincoln Woods trail was nice.  Not too warm yet and I always love listening to the sounds of the river.  We started up the Osseo Trail and almost immediately were greeted by the show of wildflowers that we'd have most of the way up.  Starflowers, Trout Lilies and Painted Trillium were growing in patches so large you'd swear they were gardens.  Beautiful!  The Osseo is an amazingly flat, smooth walk.  Hardly seems like being in the Whites.  The grades are all easy, but knowing that we're going to gain 3000' eventually we know that there are steep stretches ahead.

Cloudy start looking over the East Branch

Nice smooth walking on the Osseo Trail


Trout Lily

Painted Trillium

Further up we finally reached the switchbacks as the trail steepened and wound up the first ridge.  There are many stone steps here (which I forgot to photograph) and the signs of the many steps to come.  According to Steve Smith in 4000 Footers of the White Mountains there are 396 steps on the way to the summit of Flume.  We believe it now!  It was a warm day - the forecast said 15-20 degrees above average - but the woods stayed fairly cool in the mist as we gained elevation.  While it seemed like the kind of day that we'd be swarmed by black flies and mosquitoes we hardly saw a bug all day.  Definitely a bonus.  Before long we reached the beginning of the ladders and we found out how we were going to pay for all that easy walking earlier in the hike.  Lots of elevation gain in a hurry.

After the ladders is there is another long stretch of flat walking in the col below the summit of Flume.  It seems very strange to be back on flat ground after all that steep climbing.  This is a really lovely spot that winds through the evergreen forest with frequent bog bridges to navigate the muddy trail.  The trail was lined with more wildflowers up here including tall shrubs covered with white flowers (which I couldn't identify) that were so prolific that it looked like it was snowing along the trail.  While we were still walking in a cloud I really didn't mind at all.  There is something of a magical feel to walking in the misty woods, particularly on a mountain.  I was contemplating the fact that we weren't going to have any views from a summit that really has some spectacular ones.  It made me think back to all of our previous 4000 footers and realize how lucky we'd been.  In the nearly 30 times that we've stood on a 4000 foot summit the only time we didn't have a view was on South Twin.  Not only had the rest provided views, most had been on perfect bluebird days.  Truly a blessing.  The summit today was going to be great - views or not.  Before long we had hit the junction of the Flume Slide Trail and were ready for the final fun scramble up!

Bog bridges

The mystery shrub

Almost to the top!

 The final climb was great fun.  I had wondered about the descriptions of the "challenging scramble" and "8 foot wide ridge with precipitous drops on both sides" but it was all no problem.  No need to put the poles down for the scramble - hands not required.  Narrow path for sure and a drop to the left that probably would be dizzying on a clear day but hugging the scrub on the right it's just a beautiful walk to the top.
Summit ridge in the clouds.  
Blue blaze in the middle of the picture marks the start of the scramble

Looking down one of the slides from the summit ridge

Nat heading up the ridge

Final steps to the top

We arrived on top with a strong wind from the west blowing the clouds and mist up the mountain.  No views but a wonderful place to be!  We dropped our packs and sat gazing into the mist and imagining the sprawling views of the valley below.  As is always the case when I get to the top of a mountain I don't want to leave.  I took some pictures and just dawdled around trying to make the moment last.  It turned out to be a good thing.  Right before we were getting up to go there were a few small openings in the clouds and the sun tried to push through from above.  In a matter of minutes the mist parted and we were left with wispy clouds drifting around our heads as we looked down to the valley below.  Spectacular!  Once again the mountain Gods had smiled on us and given us a gift.  In about 5 minutes as quickly as they had opened up the clouds closed on us again. It was clearly time to head down.  #22 is now a check-mark on the 4000 footer list and the anticipation of the 26 that lie ahead is great.

Gazing into the mist

Sitting on the edge of ???

On top of #22

Hang on to your hat.  Windy up here!

Clouds tease us with a peek down

Our gift from the mountain Gods

Happy to see the sun!

One last look

A couple of thousand feet straight down

Heading back

As we headed back down into the woods the skies began to clear for good.  The sun filtering through the trees made the hike down feel like we were on a completely new trail.  The wildflowers greeted us again and kept us company for the return journey.  I usually like loop hikes much better than out-and-backs but this one is fine just the way it is.  Past the switchbacks on the way down the Osseo reminded us what a nice trail it is with those last few miles that are so much easier on the knees than most - and very welcome at the end of an 11 mile day.

What goes up must go down

The views that we missed on the way up

The perfect lookout point

Brightly decorated stump

Sun splashed trail - lovely walk

We arrived back at Lincoln Woods at 4:00 - tired, hungry and very happy.  We had definitely found the ideal way to escape the holiday weekend of yard work for day.  We went down to the river and soaked our legs in the freezing water in the perfect form of refreshment.  Although we had been planning to head straight home it was now a beautiful day in the valley and we couldn't waste it so we headed off for dinner at our favorite restaurant - the Woodstock Station.  The patio had just opened for the season and we had a great dinner outside to end another perfect day in the mountains.  The only thing that could have made it better was not having to drive home.  Someday...

Picture perfect views over the East Branch to end the day

Mom's Meatloaf Sandwich and a Pemi Pale Ale.  Yum!

Hops growing on the outside of the brewery

The full photo album is here:  Mt Flume 5-29-11

Trail view from the East

Trail view from the West

Monday, May 23, 2011

Win a Copy of Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire

My friend Karl over at Live Free and Hike is giving away 5 copies of Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire by Marianne O’Connor.  Stop by and enter the contest here: and then check out the rest of the great trip reports and other blog posts!   

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Monadnock Ends A Long Mountain Drought

I knew it had been too long since we'd hiked.  A couple of local hikes this winter and spring but almost 7 months since our last trip north and a day on any kind of mountain.  WAY too long.  With a perfect day forecast for yesterday we decided to go to our old standby for the first real spring hike - Mt Monadnock.  Our first time up Monadnock was about 5 years ago and we did it "the standard way" - up the White Dot trail and down the White Cross with a nice stay on the summit with a few hundred of our closest friends.  More like a walk through downtown Boston than solitude in the woods.  We hated the crowds, but there was a problem - this is really a beautiful place.  Miles of beautiful granite ridges, birch glades, wildflowers, mountain streams.  Too good to give up on.  Later that year we went back a second time armed with a plan for some different trails and happily we found a totally different mountain.  One that we've gone back to many times since and visited again yesterday.

The secret seems to be the trails.  Monadnock is now said to be the most hiked mountain in the world and most of the times that we've been there has seemed to prove that.  No matter the season or day of the week the parking lot is packed as are the "main trails" and the summit.  The thing is, all of the thousands of visitors seems to do the same thing - take the standard route.  Trusting that not too many people are going to read this blog post I feel safe sharing our solution.  The best part is that the alternate trails are not only uncrowded, they're also better in many ways!

We arrived yesterday morning at 10:00 and found the parking lot almost empty.  This was a real surprise for such a beautiful day in May (even a Thursday).  One of the best parts of Monadnock for us is that we can make in 2 hours from Rhode Island any day of the week.  There never seems to be any traffic problems (unlike the weekday drive to the Whites which means fighting Boston traffic no matter the route).  We headed up the White Dot trail which was uncharacteristically empty.

The skies were blue and crystal clear and there was a nice breeze.  We had been worried about the onslaught of spring black flies but surprisingly they were leaving us alone.  We followed our favorite route and at the first junction at Falcon Springs we headed up the Cascade Link trail.  This is a really pretty trail that follows and crosses a brook several times as well as going through some beautiful birch glades.  The birches seem to have had a tough winter this year.

We started seeing a few wildflowers along this section including some beautiful blooms of hobblebush.

After passing the Red Spot trail junction we hit our favorite section of the hike - the Spellman trail.  This is a short (unfortunately) and very steep connection up to the Pumpelly ridge trail that has lots of steep ledges and great scrambling as well as beautiful views.  The books say that it is the hardest trail on Monadnock but it feels just right to us.

Start of the Spellman

Steep Ledges - fun scrambling

Great views

At the top of the Spellman the Pumpelly trail runs both ways - north to the summit and east to the end of the Cascade Link.  We usually just head for the summit but this time we headed out the other way to see what the rest of this trail looks like.  The answer?  Beautiful!  Next time we'll take the Cascade Link to the end and do the whole length of the Pumpelly.

Summit views from the Pumpelly

Nat checking out the beautiful ridge

The entire length of the Pumpelly to the summit is beautiful open ledge walking along the ridge with a few drops into the evergreen groves along the way.  There are views in every direction and usually very few people.  Yesterday we saw one person on the Spellman and not another one until the summit.  They obviously didn't know what they were missing.

Cairns along the ridge

Beautiful tarn near the summit

Most days there are at least 100 people on the summit and often there are too many to count.  This time there were only a dozen or so which was a real surprise, but we didn't stay anyway.  Heading over the summit we headed down the White Arrow trail toward the beautiful tangle of west side trails between the summit and Bald Rock.  Even on a crowed day the White Arrow is an immediate escape and our usual break spot near the top is the perfect place for a lunch break with no trace of the summit craziness.

Nat at the top of the White Arrow

Nice lunch views

The hike down the White Arrow is almost the reverse of the Spellman with lots of interesting scrambling.  Someday we're going to have to try this in reverse - should be fun.  The White Arrow has many combinations of side trails that provide different scenic routes down and all have something good in common - nobody seems to ever use them.  Yesterday we took our favorite combination.  The Amphitheater trail goes left off the White Arrow at a sign painted on a rock which is very easy to miss (which we did last spring on our last time).  The Amphitheter winds down and intersects with the Smith Connector at an even harder to find junction (which we wandered around for 10 minutes looking for).  The Smith Connector then follows a series of rocky ridges through the evergreens and winds up at Bald Rock which is a "sub-summit" below Grand Monadnock.

Old soldier guards the view to the summit from Smith Connector

Blueberries blooming everywhere!  Oh to be back here in a couple of months...

Looking back to the summit from Bald Rock

Leaving Bald Rock we take the Cliff Walk trail which winds all the way from the White Arrow further up to the bottom of the mountain along a series of switchbacks and scrambles across the rock ridges.  No views down here but a beautiful walk in the woods on a twisting granite sidewalk.  Further down the Cliff Walk runs into the final treat of the day - the Lost Farm trail.  After all of the boulders and granite ledge above the Lost Farm seems like a plain old walk in the woods.  In the spring though it is completely lined with wildflowers and the perfect way to slow down and enjoy the last couple of miles of the hike.  We were a little early for everything to be blooming, but with virtual seas of hobblebush and many patches of painted trillium in full show we didn't feel cheated in the least.

Getting ready...

Painted Trillium

Swaths of hobblebush

Hobblebush meadow lining the path

The beautiful Lost Farm trail

The Lost Farm trail ends at the Parker trail for the final segment back to the parking lot making the 10th trail of the day and the end of this wonderful loop.  Our final tally for the day:  8 people seen on the trail (besides the summit), zero black fly bites, 5 hours of brilliant blue skies and the end of our 7 month mountain drought.  I can't think of a better way to spend a Thursday in May!!

Final look back at the summit over Poole reservoir

On the way home we stopped at the other secret spot that we discovered on our last trip to Monadnock - Kimball Farms.  Just a mile from Jaffrey center and some of the best ice cream on the planet.  Remember to order a kiddie cone if you want to be able to finish it.  On the other hand, after a long day on the mountain maybe a small would be in order...

For those that love hiking in the Whites (like us) that haven't given Monadnock a chance you should try it.  If you've been there are were turned off by the crowds you should go back and give the other trails a shot.  Just don't spread the word too far.  We wouldn't want everyone to know our secret.

There are two really great Monadnock websites with interactive maps and trail descriptions.  The first one that got us pointed to the alternate trails is Hiking Trails on Mt. Monadnock.  This is an excellent site, but one that I just discovered that is perhaps even better is which is run by a guy that has hiked Monadnock over 1200 times and includes great history, geology, weekly trail conditions and more.  Check them out and then go and enjoy!

If you haven't had enough of the views the full album is here: