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.