Monday, November 28, 2011

Day Hikes Near Boston, Massachusetts (USA)

The other day I wanted to go for a quick day hike, but I didn't really know where to go. Fortunately for me, there is a mailing list in the department where I am doing my graduate work (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT) that "spams" everyone and is meant for random questions just like this one. Although I ended up going to the Blue Hills, I thought that I would share the list of all places that were recommended to me. The list here is sorted in order of how often it was mentioned in an email (I received about 20 or so responses within 2 hours -- not bad, I would say!). For general information about parks and such, you can always check out the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) website.

Blue Hills
Mt. Monadnock (Jaffrey, NH)
Middlesex Fells
Lynn Woods
Wachusett Mountain
The Trustees
Mt. Everett (Western MA)
Moose Hill Audubon
Borderland State Park
Boston Harbor Walk
Lincoln, MA (e.g. Mt. Misery)
Stony Brook Reservation
Arnold Arboretum
Wapack Trail (e.g. Mount Watatic)
Babson Boulders (Gloucester, MA)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

DIY Lip Cozy

Have you ever taken your piping hot cup, pot, or whatever cooking vessel you happen to be using, brought it to your mouth to drink some nice warm tea or coffee and completely burned your lips? Well, I can assure you, that I have done it more than once… But, fortunately for me, those dark, lip burned days are behind me.

Ignoring the most obvious solution of waiting until the pot cools down, another solution to this problem is to bring a seperate (non-metal) cup to use for drinking. But, being the kind of guy I am, I don't really want to lug an extra cup around just for drinking some tea. So, what's the alternate solution? Well, I affectionately call it my "lip cozy." Instead of the usual cup cozy that goes on the outside of a cup, this is a little attachment that goes inside the top of cup so that you can drink from the cool plastic as opposed to the scathing metal. Oh, and for you gram counters, this barely weights anything.

Although the image above should be pretty self explanatory, for those of you who would like complete step-by-step instructions, of how to make this wonderful attachment, read on!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How Long Will It Take From Point A to Point B: Book Time

When planning a trip, it is useful (and depending on where you are going, very important) to have a reasonable guesstimate of how long it will take you to get from point A to point B. Clearly, there are many factors that come in to play when calculating how long it will take for you to cover the 15 miles from where you packed up your camp in the morning to where you are hoping be setting up your tent that evening. These factors include, but are definitely not limited to, weather, weight of pack, difficulty of terrain, number of breaks, amount of sight-seeing, etc. And if you're traveling in winter, well, then the snow will definitely slow you down some more.

However, a rule of thumb that is often used is called "Book Time." This is a simple rule that assumes that you travel 2 miles an hour and adds an additional 30 minutes for every 1,000 ft of elevation gain. So, if you are traveling 10 miles and are expecting a 1,000 ft elevation gain over those 10 miles, the book time is 5.5 hours (5 hours for the distance, and 30 minutes for the 1,000 feet). Below you will find a simple calculator that will compute this for you. As a side note, a similar rule was put forth by Scottish mountaineer William Naismith in 1892 and is aptly named Naismith's Rule.

One thing to keep in mind is that book time is only meant to help you plan your trip. The more you hike, the more you are likely to know if this guideline fits your walking pace. Furthermore, you can adjust it accordingly and get a much more accurate time. Remember, if you are traveling in a group, you need to plan according to the slowest hiker.

Importantly, keep in mind that this is not meant as a measuring stick of how good of a hiker you are; just because you are slower than book time, doesn't mean you don't know what you're doing. Similarly, just because you are faster, doesn't mean you are enjoying your hike more than the slower person.

A Simple Book Time Calculator

Here is a simple calculator that uses the aforementioned rule to calculate the time (in hours) for your trip. Remember, this is only a guideline and should not be used as a hard and fast rule!

The distance to be traveled (in miles):
The elevation gain (in feet):
According to book time, your trip should take you 5.5 hours (5 hours for the distance, and 0.5 hours for the elevation gain).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Skyline Trail, Blue Hills (Massachusetts, USA)

A panorama view from Blue Hill Observatory. Boston is that smattering of buildings in the distance.


The Skyline Trail

The Skyline Trail is a very popular trail in the Blue Hills Reservation located south of Boston. This trail basically goes across the entire reservation from east to west (or west to east, depending on how you look at it). On the western end of the trail is Blue Hill (it goes on farther, but many people start/end there) and on the eastern end are the St. Moritz Ponds. According to this site, the full round-trip of the Trail is about 16 miles. However, if you have done any hiking in the White Mountains (or any other mountainous region), then this is not the same "16 miles" that you are used to. The highest peak (Blue Hill) is a whopping 635 feet (211 m) high. To put the into perspective, the John Hancock Tower in Boston is 790 ft (240 m). Oh, and the Sears Tower in Chicago is 1450 feet (442 m) high. So yes, not a very big hill. That being said, the Skyline Trail does go up and down, and those ups and downs are very similar to the ones you'll find in the White Mountains - just not as long or as steep. As for required footwear, well, you can pretty much wear whatever you want. I saw just as many people in hiking boots/shoes as I did in sneakers. On a nice day, it definitely makes for a nice comfortable hike. Although one can start at either end (or in the middle), I used public transportation to get to the Blue Hills, and thus started at the Trailside Museum on the western end of the trail and caught the Skyline trail at the "summit" of Blue Hill. As a side note, the Trailside Museum houses a bunch of animals and birds that is free to the public.

You can get the full PDF version of this map from the DCR website here. Alternatively you can buy a paper copy when you get there.

How Do I Get There?

There are many ways to get to the Skyline Trail (and the rest of the Blue Hills, for that matter) as there are a plethora of roads that cut right through the reservation. Furthermore, there are several MBTA buses that get pretty close to the reservation. For your convenience I've included links to Google Maps that are close to where you might want to start:




There is more information on the DCR Blue Hills Reservation with detailed driving or public transportation instructions if you prefer not to use Google Maps to plan your trip.

The Trip

As I was constrained by starting points in the Blue Hills that the MBTA services (or gets reasonably close to), I decided to hike the Skyline trail starting at the Trailside Museum on Rt. 138. This way, I could take the Orange Line out to Forest Hills and then take the 32 bus all the way to the end (Wolcott Square). While this still put me about 2 miles from the Trailside Museum, I took my bike along which made this a nonissue. I stepped out the front door at about 7am and was ready to march by 8:45 (of course, I stopped by my office on the way to the train station and made myself a nice cappuccino).

As alluded to in the Planning section, this wasn't the most strenuous of hikes. However, it was a nice sunny autumn day, perfect for a nice stroll in the woods. I had my camera with me and so I probably spent an equal time walking as trying to take photos (as you can see from some of the photos I snapped in the gallery above, "trying" is the operative word). The view from the observation tower atop of Blue Hill was definitely nice. For future reference, being up there at sunset would probably be a very beautiful view of Boston.

As the trail starting at the Trailside Museum isn't the Skyline Trail, I picked up the trail at the top of Blue Hill. I took the northern route and made my way over to the Reservation Headquarters. I wish I could say this was without incident, but alas, I took a wrong turn on top of Hemenway Hill (yes, that's how it's supposed to be spelled) and walked along some other path for about 0.5 miles. Amusingly, not 10 minutes earlier was I thinking to myself, "Wow, this Skyline Trail is really well marked." And it really is well marked, about every 4th or 5th tree has a light blue blaze on it. Of course, the problem is if you're busy admiring the scenery it's easy to just follow another path and forget about the blazes. If you do go to the Blue Hills, one of the first things you will undoubtedly notice is that you will come upon an intersection about every 10 minutes. So, don't be like me; keep a lookout as to where you're going!

After stopping at the headquarters for a couple of minutes to drink some water and remove some layers (it was a lot warmer than I had expected it to be), I crossed the road and headed for Buck Hill. If you are looking for a solitary hike, this is definitely not the place for you… at least not on a nice day. There were quite a few boy scout troops, and other groups of people on the trail. While there was a lone tree atop Buck Hill (see the picture above), there were throngs of people having lunch. Not wanting to contend for a rock to sit on, I pressed on and finally had lunch Nahanton Hill -- the view wasn't as nice, but it was much quieter. I had taken my canister stove with me and so I made myself a nice cup of hot tea to go along with my sandwiches. A delectable lunch, if I may say so.

I decided to head back after lunch. Instead of taking the Skyline Trail back to Rt. 28 I decided to take the Sassaman Notch Path and the Bouncing Brook Path. On the DCR map it is marked in red dots indicating "rugged, rocky loops over hilly terrain." In actuality it's a wide path that is anything from challenging. As a matter of fact, the only thing challenging about this path is the fist sized loose rocks hiding under a blanket of leaves that move when stepped on. Nonetheless, it was a nice walk in the woods with far fewer people.

By 3:30pm, after having walked about a total of 11 miles, I was back on my bicycle heading toward the bus stop on my way home. It was definitely an enjoyable day of sauntering in the woods.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

DIY Stuff Sack

What is the one item that backpackers can't get enough of? Stuff sacks! That's right, stuff sacks are those wonderful bags that keep our bags organized. Although putting things inside a bag, to put inside another bag, to possibly but inside another bag, may seem to be the actions of a lunatic (some city-dwellers would consider people that willingly forgo the comfort of their home as crazy), it is actually a very useful tactic to keeping your pack organized.

Although there are a myriad of different types of stuff sacks ranging from the high-end ultra-light ones (e.g. this one, or this one) that weigh less than an ounce, to the regular, run of the mill ones (e.g. this one) that weigh a couple of ounces. The problem with these is that, the high-end ones are expensive and the cheap ones are "heavy." So, what's the solution that trades time for money and sprinkles in a dash of fun? DIY, of course. The instructions below are for making silicon-nylon (silnylon) stuff sacks that are quite light and cheap. The 12L bag from the instructions below (8" wide by 16" deep) only weighs 5/8th of an ounce and cost me about $3 in materials (I bought about $12 worth of material, and with that I should be able to make at least 4 sacks.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: "How to Hike the A.T." and "Long Distance Hiking"

Although there are a plethora of books that cover the topic of long-distance hiking the two books "How to Hike the A.T.: The Nitty-Gritty Details of A Long-Distance Trek" by Michelle Ray and "Long-Distance Hiking: Lessons from the Appalachian Trail" by Roland Mueser are two very good reads that use the experiences that the authors gained from their hiking of the Appalachian Trail. Unlike the book "A Walk In the Woods" by Bill Bryson, these books are not humorous tales of the author's adventures, but rather they contain useful reference information about what you'll need to perform a long distance hike. Interestingly, they approach the same topic in completely differing ways such that it is hard for me to say that one book is better than the other.

Michelle Ray presents the book by combining her experiences on the trail with a plethora of supporting research to fill in the gaps. The book covers all the topics that you would expect; everything from the type of gear that you will need to a brief overview of the types of plants that you can expect to see on the trail. There is the obligatory sample gear list, and for those of you who are planning on hiking the entire AT and using mail-drops or bounce boxes, there is even a list of all of the post offices that are along (or nearby) the trail. Although a seasoned hiker will know what he/she likes to eat while out and about, there is an entire chapter devoted to types of food that can be taken and a fairly detailed list of "backpacker foods" that can be found in regular grocery stores. Although all of the information that is provided in the book is a great starting point for any long-distance hiker, the multitude of links to other resources (whether they be links to webpages or references to other books and guides) make it a great starting resource for the enterprising long-distance hiker.

Roland Mueser, on the other hand, approaches the topic of long-distance hiking not solely based on his own experiences, but those of 136 hikers (101 men, 35 women). While on his own thru-hike in 1989, he handed out surveys to fellow hikers and the book is a compilation of the survey results. Thus, instead of, for example, presenting information about the differences between light-weight and heavy hiking boots, he presents an actual percentage of hikers that used each type of shoe. What makes this style of writing interesting is that it brings a slightly more "scientific" approach to answering questions like "What brand of backpack should I buy," "What type of food should I eat," or "How should I purify my water? Filter? Chemicals? Not bother?" For those of you who like to see actual percentages next to answers (i.e. "75% of respondents chose X over Y and Z" rather than simply stating what the relative merits of X, Y, and Z are), this is a great read. While he spends most of the book explaining the results of the survey, the actual survey and the results of each question are also included.

In the end, it's really up to you which book you will end up liking more. I enjoyed Michelle Ray's book for all of the information that she provided without passing judgement as to which item(s) is better than the other. As aforementioned, I found it especially useful as a starting point to then go out and find more information. On the other hand, the scientist in me thoroughly appreciated Roland Muesser's approach of presenting all of the information in the context of survey results from actual hikers. You might as well do as I did: read both and decide for yourself.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: "A Walk In The Woods" By Bill Bryson

I recently finished a copy of Bill Bryson's "A Walk In The Woods" and thought I would share my opinions. The book tells the story of two out-of-shape middle-aged men, Bill Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz, and their experience of hiking (part of) the Appalachian Trail. The tale begins with Bill purchasing his equipment (and the sticker shock that ensued), meeting his "friend" Katz for the first time in many years, and them setting off to Georgia amidst one of the coldest winters that Springer Mountain had seen in quite some time. While neither of them actually hiked all of the 2,200 miles of the trail, and they never make it to Mt. Katahdin in Maine (it's just "'Another mountain,' ..., 'How many do you need to see, Bryson?'" p. 271), it is a amusingly witty book that plunges the reader into their version of the Appalachian wilderness and all that that entails.

Apart from the many hilarious moments and comments, such as his reason for attempting the hike ("I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, `Yeah, I've shit in the woods.'" p. 4), it contains a slew of historical information that is expertly woven into his narrative. It's not often that you can find a book that talks about a man, Katz, being chased around a town by the husband of a 300 pound woman who he helped at the laundromat by untangling her oversized underwear from the washing machine in one chapter, and then discusses the rise and decline of the tourism industry around Mt. Washington in another.

Although he manages to tell their tale with a generous helping of satirical humor, some may find some of the actions taken by the two men slightly distasteful. For example, there are several occasions in the book where Katz throws items ranging from coffee filters to woolen sweaters from his pack into the woods to lighten his load. Some have said that for a book that attempts to praise the ideals of the Appalachian Trail and the opportunity it provides for anyone to experience the serenity of the trail, this brazen disregard for nature detracts from the story and message. Others have said that it feels as though it is just a story of two whining men that can't wait to get to the next hotel. In part this is true, but the fact that they are not children of nature is what makes the story so memorable. If they were die-hard hikers, most of the funny and sometimes downright stupid (throwing rocks and sticks at a pair of eyes in the dark that Bryson thinks may be a bear), would not have happened.

So, if you are looking for a fun, well-written story about the experience of two men and their experiences along the Appalachian Trail sprinkled with nuggets of historical information, then I would most certainly recommend this book. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a guide that explains how to prepare for a hike, or are completely incensed by littering, then I would stay clear. For my part, I thoroughly appreciated the humor of the book and enjoyed reading several chapters of it on my own hike of the Pemi Trail.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

DIY Tent Footprint

So you just bought yourself a fancy new tent and you see that there is a matching footprint that goes along with it. "Hold on a minute," you think to yourself, "I just spent my hard earned money on a tent, and I need to spend more money on something that goes underneath it?" Well, the answer to the question of whether or not you need a footprint is a hard one to answer. Some people will adamantly tell you, "Yes! You Need it!" (e.g. Marc Wiltse), but others say that they've never used one or only use one when they know they are going to be pitching a tent on gravel.

As for myself, I have camped both with and without a footprint. The purpose of a footprint is both to minimize the amount of potential moisture that seeps through the bottom of the tent and to reduce the amount of wear and tear on the tent (it's much cheaper to replace a footprint than an entire tent). Although I could purchase the recommended footprint for my tent for about $30 (or $20 if it's on sale), I decided to go the cheaper route and make my own for under $4. As a matter of fact, with the amount of material I bought I could make quite a few footprints. Here are some simple instructions for how you too can make a footprint for your camping adventures.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pemi (Pemigewasset) Loop (New Hampshire, USA)

A panorama view from the top of Mt. Lafayette (Day 2). From here you can see all that you have hiked, and where you still have to go.


To be honest, there wasn't all that much planning that went into this trip. On Thursday, I found out from my PhD advisor that my dissertation defense date that was scheduled for 3 weeks from today was moved back 5 months, and so I thought, why not go to the mountains? So, by the following day I had my bag packed, some dehydrated dinners prepared, and a car rented (I got a great last-minute deal online). As I had to return the rental car and be back at the office on Monday, I had to do the entire hike in 2.5 days... a bit rushed, but doable. It would have been a much more comfortable hike in 3.5 days, but 2.5 was definitely feasible.

Pemi Loop, Which Trail Is That?

As others have pointed out, the Pemi Loop isn't an actual trail per se, so there are no trail markers that say "Pemi Loop." The loop consists of the following trails (listed in the order that most people hike them) that happen to make a nice long 32 mile hike:

If you are a peak-bagger, this is definitely a nice loop to go on as you hit the following peaks (listed in order of the trails above):
  • Mt. Flume (4328 ft)
  • Mt. Liberty (4459 ft)
  • Little Haystack Mountain (4780 ft)
  • Mt. Lincoln (5089 ft)
  • Mt. Lafayette (5260 ft)
  • Mt. Garfield (4500 ft)
  • South Twin Mountain (4902 ft)
  • Mt. Guyot (4580 ft)
  • Mt. Bond (4698 ft)
  • The Cliffs (4265 ft)
With a quick side-trip you could also get to Galehead Mountain (4040 ft) between Mt. Garfield and South Twin Mountain; North Twin Mountain (4761 ft) isn't far away either. So, in the span of a couple of days you can visit a fair share of the Four-Thousand Footers (three of them being in the top 10).

If you haven't noticed, this trail is nothing but hiking from peak to peak along ridges. I believe that the total elevation gain adds up to about 9000 feet. To put that in perspective, Mt. Everest is 29,035 feet high and Base Camp is somewhere in the vicinity of 17,700 feet. So, during the course of the 32 miles you climb about 2000 fewer feet than when climbing Mt. Everest. Of course, that speaks nothing of the much, much (much, much) more demanding conditions found on Everest. In any case, if you don't much like hiking up and down sometimes very steep inclines, I would stay away from this one. Also, if you know you have knee problems, this one might not be the one for you... my knees generally don't bother me much, and it very well could have been the fault of my choice of boots, but by the end of each day it wasn't usually fatigue that made me want to throw my pack down and curl up under a tree (or rock on the ridge) but rather the pain in my knees.

How Do I Get There?

If you have a car, the easiest way is to get yourself to Lincoln, NH (right off of I-93), and drive along the famous Kancamagus Highway for 5 miles to the Lincoln Woods Trail Head (on the left).

If you don't have a car you can either try your luck with the Greyhound bus that stops off at Lincoln at 9pm once a day, or go with the Concord Coach Lines that is a bit more convenient (and cheaper) but has a much more limited route. Of course, you then still have to make your way to the trail head somehow.

Water, Where Can I Find Some?

There are a bunch of "official" places along the loop where you can refill your water bottles/hydration packs. Listing them in the order of the trails above, they are:
  • Lincoln Woods trail head
  • Liberty Springs Tent Site (a 0.3 mile hike down the Liberty Spring Trail from the ridge)
  • Garfield Ridge AMC Camp Site
  • Galehead Hut
  • Guyot AMC Shelter and Tentsite
Unofficially, (i.e. running streams, rivers) there is a stream at the start of the Osseo trail that is easily accessible. Also, once you hike down from the Cliffs, the Bondcliff trail crosses the Black Brook several times and then follows the Pemigewasset river until it links up with the Lincoln Woods Trial. If you take a look at the distances between the water sources, the most difficult part is between the Liberty Springs Tent Site and the Garfield Ridge Tent Site as you are without refilling sources for quite a while.

Where Can I Sleep?

Technically speaking, you can camp anywhere along the trail as long as 1) you are below the tree line (unless there is 2 feet of snow), and 2) not within a 1/4 mile of any AMC run hut/tent site or road. Also, if you are staying in the alpine zone, which is clearly marked on the trail, you have to use a stove to cook your meals. Since the rules can change it is best to check out the official rules from the US Forest Service here.

Although I can't guarantee that these clearings will still exist when you get there, there are a couple of clearings on the Franconia Ridge before you reach Little Haystack Mountain. As a matter of fact, I stayed at one of them that was just below the tree line and had a perfect view of the western sky. There are also some other clearings on the Garfield Ridge between Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Garfield, but there isn't much of a view (except for trees).

If you prefer more established locations, the tent sites charge (in 2011) $8 a night per person and provide you with either a wooden platform to pitch your tent or a wooden shelter to sleep in (Guyot Tent Site only). You also get the wonderful amenities of a water source and an outhouse (shall we say 5 stars, anyone?). The huts (Galehead Hut and Green Leaf Hut 1.1 miles down the Bridle Path from the summit of Mt. Lafayette) provide you with a bunk to sleep in, warm food, and access to clean water. Of course, they charge quite a bit more for all of this.

The Trip

Day 1
The day started with me strapping on my pack and biking 5 miles through the city to the car rental place (getting a car for $19 a day does come at a price of convenience). It turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year and by the time I got to the rental place at 8am, I was dripping with sweat -- what a great way to start. On the bright side, I had a 2 hour drive to cool down.

By a little after 11:30am I had paid my parking fee ($3 a day) at the Lincoln Woods trail head, filled my water bottles and was making my way down the Lincoln Woods Trail. The first thing that I noticed was the very annoying placement of wooden planks across the path. They are just far enough apart that it's hard to step from one to the next, but too close together to not have to step on them every now and then. Only later was my suspicion that these were railway ties confirmed when I asked a park ranger. It turns out that the Lincoln Woods Trail and Bondcliff trails (and probably other trails as well) were part of the logging industry in the past and there were railway tracks that were used to take the lumber out of the woods. As a matter of fact, you can still see old clearings where the workers slept, a single iron railway track, and an old metal railway car suspension along the Bondcliff Trail.

Unlike most people that go clockwise, I thought, I've already seen the stretch from Mt. Lincoln to Mt. Lafayette, so I'll hike the trail in the opposite direction so that I'll end with Mt. Liberty (actually, the last summit is Mt. Flume); thus starting with the Bondcliff Trail and ending with the Osseo Trail. The first 80% of the trail isn't bad at all -- there aren't any steep inclines and it's quite a nice walk in the woods. The trail does cross the Black Brook several times, so if it's been raining a lot, you might want to be prepared to get some wet feet. I ate my lunch (a very tasty peanut butter sandwich, and an even tastier Nutella sandwich) sitting in the sun on a rock in a dried up stream. By around 3:15pm I reached the top of The Cliffs and sat there soaking up the sun. I asked someone to take the obligatory photo of me standing on the cliffs, but immediately regretted it. Standing out on the ledge with nothing but sheer cliffs on three sides and gusts of winds blowing at 40 miles an hour wasn't all that great for my nerves (if you look at the picture, you'll clearly see I wasn't all that comfortable). I was most definitely very happy when I was able to gingerly turn around and head back to retrieve my camera from the other hiker.

I left The Cliffs a bit before 4pm and crossed over the summit of Mt. Bond and trudged in to the Guyot Tent Site sometime after 5pm. As it was a Friday evening of a weekend with nothing but sunshine in the forecast, it is an understatement to say that the campsite was full. I ended up sleeping in the wooden shelter/hut with 4 other guys (the warden just made all hikers that were traveling alone sleep in the hut to give the tent platforms to the larger groups). By 8:30pm, my stomach was filled with instant mashed potatoes, re-hydrated vegetables and chicken, and a nice cup of hot chocolate, I had read several chapters of Bill Bryson's "A Walk In The Woods" (yes, it's quite ironic that I was reading a book about hiking the Appalachian Trail while hiking myself), and was comfortably lying inside my down hiking quilt and counting some sheep.

Day 2

This was a long day, by the end of which I had been on six of the ten peaks. As usual, I was woken up by the morning light and was up and about before 7am. I enjoyed my oatmeal with bananas (that I had dehydrated for the trip) and a nice cup of hot coffee that I prepared on my new Snow Peak LiteMax canister stove (that worked splendidly). Amusingly, we had quite the collection of stove types between the 5 of us in the hut. One guy had a JetBoil canister stove, another had the MSR Whisperlite liquid fuel stove, and the other two shared a homemade alcohol stove similar to the one I used on my previous trip. If only we had someone with an esbit stove, we would have had pretty much all types of hiking cooking equipment.

After departing the camp ground, which was made quicker by the fact that I didn't have a tent to pack up, I quickly reached the summit of Mt. Guyot about half a mile away at around 8:30am. After crossing the nice alpine ridge between Guyot and South Twin, I made a relatively quick descent to the Galehead Hut where I re-filled one of my water bottles. I must say, the view from the hut was quite spectacular (I stupidly forgot to take a photo) as it is nestled between the peaks with a grand view of the entire valley. If it wasn't for the fact that I still had three peaks to climb I would have stayed longer than 15 minutes and enjoyed the tranquil surroundings.

The hike from the hut to Garfield wasn't anything spectacular. Not that it wasn't nice being in the woods, but the only time that you have a clear view of the peaks, you just realize how far you have descended and how far you have to climb back up. The fun part really begins about 100 feet from the Garfield Tent site. Why you ask? Well, because you have to climb what is probably a 100 foot "water fall" to get to it. Yes, it's pretty much straight up. I was definitely glad to be going up this pile of rocks and not going down. I was also very glad that it hadn't rained in a while and the water was a mere trickle… boy would this not be fun with completely wet rocks. The only consolation at the top was that I could re-fill my water bottles (for the last time) before reaching the summit of Garfield and continuing on to Lafayette.

By 1pm I had reached the summit of Mt. Garfield and was happy to extract my tired feet from their hiking boot prisons. I chowed down my two tuna fish wraps and peanut butter wrap, snapped some photos and was on my merry way. The first part of the Garfield Ridge Trail is very similar to the other wooded areas, trees on either side a dirt path littered with rocks both in front and behind you. Once you get above the tree line, however, you are presented with the spectacular view of the entire area (and gusts of wind up to 60 miles per hour). After some scrambling up rocks, chatting with fellow hikers (and petting their dogs), I finally reached the summit of Mt. Lafayette at a little after 4pm. I spent about half an hour on the peak talking to other people and just generally enjoying the warm afternoon.

Noting that I still had a couple of miles ahead of me, I lifted up my pack again and made my along the Franconia Ridge Trail over to Mt. Lincoln and Little Haystack Mountain. Apart from the approaches to the peaks to the two summits, most of this section is downhill as Mt. Lafayette is the tallest of the bunch (of all of the peaks on the Pemi Loop, as a matter of fact). This normally wouldn't be a problem, rather it probably would be a welcome change to most, but my knees were not feeling in very good shape. When I found that someone had left a wooden stick along the path, I was very glad to pick it up and use it as my walking stick for the rest of the way.

I recalled from my previous trip that there were a couple of clearings along the ridge right below the tree line after passing Little Haystack. So, I made up my mind that I wasn't going to walk the last 1.5 miles to the Liberty Spring Tent Site, but rather set up shop a bit early. The up side was that I didn't have to walk any farther, it was free, and that I had a fantastic view of the mountains on the other side of the valley. The downside, however, was that I only had half a liter of water left. Thus, instead of having what was slated on the menu for that night (mashed potatoes with re-hydrated tomato sauce and vegetables), I ate my following day's lunch instead (which, incidentally, was the same as the lunch I had not too long before). I did, however, heat up some water for a nice cup of hot chocolate that I enjoyed whilst looking out over they valley below.

Day 3

This is what I woke up to on Sunday morning. Not a bad way to start the day!
Unlike the previous day where I woke up before my 6:45am alarm, I actually hit the snooze button on my watch twice before getting up. With less than half a liter of water left I made myself a cup of coffee and decided that I was going to get water at the Liberty Spring Tent Site and then have my breakfast on top of Mt. Liberty. So, that's what I did. By 10am I had made my way down to the tent site, re-filled my water bottles, and had made my way to the top of Mt. Liberty. Although I had hoped to do the cooking right at the top, the winds were a bit too strong to make that a reality. Instead I took my food and mess kit down the trail a bit, heated up the food and a cup of hot chocolate, and hiked back up to the top and sat on a rock to have a glorious (albeit windy) Sunday brunch. (You can see me using the $1 Pot Cozy I made earlier)

The trip over to Mt. Flume was relatively quick, although there is an uphill section that seems to go on forever. Unlike most other parts of the trail where the uphill sections are of varying steepness, here it seemed to be a constant incline for a while. But, once you reach the top you are rewarded with the final view of the area before you descend for the last time back down to the Lincoln Woods Trail on the Osseo Trail. Of course, before you get to the Lincoln Woods Trail, you have to go down probably the steepest section of the entire 32 miles. But, before you worry, the maintainers of the trail (AMC) were kind enough to put in wooden steps that make it rather easy.

About a 1/4 mile before the Osseo Trail meets up with the Lincoln Woods Trail it follows a little stream. Although I didn't need it to get water, I did need it for a little cleaning. It was nice to be able to soak my feet in the cold water and wash the sweat off of my face and out of my hair before getting back to civilization. The last mile back to the parking lot on the Lincoln Woods Trail went very quickly as it is nearly flat (apart from those darn railway ties). And that was it, by around 2:30pm my pack was in the trunk of the car and I was on my way home. Although I was happy to be heading back to see my wife, I am definitely looking forward to when I get to go back.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Disposing and Recycling Stove Canisters

Although canister stoves are a wonderful addition to any multi-day hiking pack, they have the drawback of creating waste (I personally have and use a Snow Peak LiteMax). After doing some digging on the web and calling some local businesses and the city hall, it seems there are a couple solutions, some better than others ranging from cheap and easy to annoying and expensive. I'll start with what is probably the best option, and make my way down to the worst. (So, if you're pressed for time, just ignore anything after the first entry).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mt. Lafayette (New Hampshire, USA) via Liberty Spring Trail

Day 1

I left the parking lot by the Flume visitor center at around 2pm on a beautiful Friday afternoon. The sky was blue with only a couple white clouds that provided intermittent cover from the sun. I realized a bit late (i.e. when i had my pack on and car doors locked) that there is a parking lot a bit farther down the road that is closer to the trailhead. But then again, using that logic I could just forgo hiking and drive to the nearest cinema. So, if you happen to make this mistake too, all you have to do is follow the bike trail for a bit and then when the road splits, take the road less traveled (the bike trail is paved, but the way you want to go is the unpaved way). This should lead you to the "correct" parking lot where the trail actually begins.

As many have said, the path to where the Liberty Spring Trail (LST) begins is very flat and can be walked in no time -- part of it is paved as it is also a bike trail. If so inclined, one can take a quick detour and go down to the river that flows right by the path. After about 20 minutes or so, I arrived at the point where the trail splits and the LST heads away from the bike path and up towards Mount Liberty and the Liberty Spring Campsite. It was easy going for the first 30 minutes or so, but then things got a wee bit steeper. Actually, from there on out, it was pretty much stepping from rock to rock on what seemed to be a never ending stair case. I don't think it was as steep as the Grouse Grind in North Vancouver, Canada, but it goes on for longer. Fortunately for me, I met some nice people along the way that I stopped to chat with giving my legs some rest.

After about 2.5 hours of hiking I made it to the campsite where I was the third person to show up. I stopped by the caretaker's tent (the campsite is run by the Appalachian Mountain Club) who told me that the tent platforms are on the left and that water is on the right. I ended up taking the first small platform (I mean, there is no need for me to use up a large platform for my 1 person tent), set up the tent and started chatting with the folks around. At around 5:30pm I took out my home made alcohol penny stove and my rice and dehydrated vegetable and turkey dinner. Only then did I realize that the first thing that I should have done was to put my dinner in water and let it soak for at least 30 minutes before cooking it. Alas, although I got both the water for the hot chocolate and my dinner to boil using about 1 ounce of denatured alcohol (2 tablespoons), the meat never got soft and was akin to turkey jerky.

Day 2

After crawling out of my tent at 6am, I lit my stove to heat up my oatmeal that contained some dehydrated strawberries and blueberries and made a nice cup of instant milk coffee. Fortunately for all of us at the camp site, the light rain subsided for the breakfast, resulting in a nice meal that wasn't interrupted by pesky mosquitoes. Rain is definitely nature's best bug repellant. By 7:30 my stomach was full, the mess kit cleaned, the tent put away, my hiking quilt tucked away safely in its dry sack, and my water bottles filled with nice cold mountain water. I followed the trail up to Mt. Liberty where I had the best views of the day... I actually saw across the valley and could make out the peaks on the other side. I made my way back down from the summit and hiked along the Franconia Ridge Trail to Mt. Lafayette. Unfortunately for me and the other fellow hikers that day, the conditions were nothing short of miserable. We had gusts of wind up to 40 miles/h, freezing rain, and the constant dampness of the mist. While on a nice day the occasional trees and shrubberies would distract from the views offered on the ridge, today they provided me with a nice break from the constant onslaught of the wind. After making my way down from the summit of Mt. Lafayette on the Old Bridle Path, I was definitely very glad for the respite from the cold offered by the Greenleaf Hut where I enjoyed my tuna wrap followed by a decadent peanut butter, honey, and chocolate chip wrap. I followed the Old Bridle Path down back to the main road where I had a cold and wet 3 mile walk back to the parking lot. By 3pm I had changed out of my soaked clothing into a dry pair of shorts and t-shirt and was headed back to the concrete jungle.

Monday, June 20, 2011

DIY $1 Pot Cozy

Making gourmet meals on the trail is hard. At home one usually brings water to a boil, adds the pasta or rice, and cooks it for 10 to 30 minutes on the stove. However, the amount of fuel needed to do this on a hiking trip makes this sort of cooking impractical. So, instead of cooking things on the stove for a long time, it is more practical to first soak the food to be cooked in water for a while, bring the water (and food) to a boil on a stove, and then let it sit for some time more. To make sure that the water that was heated stays warm for as long as possible, a pot cozy can be used. So, here are some instructions for making a $1 pot cozy using a thermal bag and some duct tape.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

DIY High Visibility Tent Stakes

Although I made some of my own stakes, I also have some DAC V stakes that came along with my Sierra Designs Lightyear 1 tent. The problem with these (and most other stakes that are not some bright color to begin with, including the ones I made) is that they can be hard to see and easy to misplace or trip over. So, a very simple solution to this conundrum is to take some bright nail polish and paint the top of the stakes. A note of warning, if you are taking it from your significant other, make sure to ask to borrow the nail polish first to make sure that you don't run in to any trouble when you go up to her and say, "Look at my cool stakes!"

  • Bright nail polish
  • Tent stakes
This is a hard one. Take nail polish. Apply to stakes. Wait for it to dry.
Oh wait, there is no next step.