Tag Archive 'Green Mountains'

Jun 25 2021

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A Good Day in the Mountains

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After a steep, one-mile hike, I arrive at Sterling Pond just as the sun is cresting Madonna Peak. I’ve come here early to fly fish the pond before the crowd arrives. Situated between two ski resorts and a well-beaten path out of Smuggler’s Notch, this is a popular place. But I haven’t been here in years so thought I’d check it out. I’ve done well fishing this pond for brook trout in the past.

Water laps to shore as a gentle breeze rocks the conifers surrounding the pond. Chickadees and veerys call out, otherwise it’s very quiet here. I cast a dry fly repeatedly upon the pond’s surface then switch to a wet one. No result either way. The trout aren’t rising. But with temps in the 60s, a blue sky overhead and no mosquitoes or black flies, I don’t really care.

I hike to the far end of the pond and try my luck again. Day hikers show up back where I was fishing before but I can barely hear them. I cast for a half an hour or so, then make an entry in my field journal while eating a mid-morning snack. Again, no trout rising.

While hiking the trail around the pond, I try my luck again at a couple other places. Still no action so I pack up my rod and hike towards Spruce Peak. Atop that mountain, I eat lunch while gazing across Smuggler’s Notch to Mount Mansfield. No one else is here. And the summer breeze, still blowing steadily, keeps the black flies at bay. I lounge near the edge of a cliff thinking about nothing, nothing at all. I’m happy just being in the moment.

Eventually I leave Spruce Peak then hike down the beaten path to the notch. Dozens of hikers pass me – most of them on their way up to the pond. I step aside, letting them pass. It’s early afternoon and I’m in no rush. I’ve already enjoyed a good day in the mountains, even though I caught no fish.

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Feb 24 2021

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Cutting Tracks in Deep Snow

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Late winter. I tramp the hard-packed trail leading into Honey Hollow wearing crampons until they clog up with snow. Then I take them off. Easier walking without them. With temps above freezing, it’s a pleasant hike in shirtsleeves and thermals. The sun peeks through the clouds as I pass the gorge.

Upon reaching a gate blocking the side trail, I affix snowshoes to my boots. From this point forward, the hike gets harder. I follow the snowshoe tracks of someone else who came this way a week or two ago – after the last big snowstorm. This takes some doing but it’s easier than breaking trail.

The older tracks go beyond the apple tree clearing. They turn around shortly after crossing a feeder stream tumbling down to Preston Brook. Then I’m on my own, cutting tracks in two feet of undisturbed snow. I work up a sweat in no time. I stop frequently to catch my breath. While doing so, I catch glimpses of open leads of water in the brook fifty yards to my left. That gets me thinking spring isn’t too far away.

It takes the better part of an hour to break half a mile of trail. Then I reach the tree along the brook where I pressed a fishing fly into bark last summer. That makes me smile. Not too far beyond that tree, I tamp down a spot to rollout my foam pad. Then I sit down for a while. It’s a lovely day in the snow-covered mountains. I eat a handful of nuts and an energy bar, and drink nearly a liter of water while listening to the deep forest quiet. The brook murmurs beneath the snowpack.

After lunch I retrace my steps, improving the trail I’ve cut. I had intended to do a loop, but backtracking is a lot easier than cutting tracks. I stop frequently just to look around, grooving on the wild beauty of the Green Mountains in winter. So glad I came out for the day.

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Aug 16 2020

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Backcountry Excursions Reprinted

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In 1990, I published a slender, olive green paperback called Tracks across the Forest Floor. It was my first attempt to write a nonfiction narrative about one of my ventures into the woods. Tracks went out of print a long time ago, but I included it in a set of six hiking narratives called Backcountry Excursions, released in 2005. That book has been nearly out of print for several years now. Well, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Tracks, I have reprinted Backcountry with a new cover and preface. And a few fixed typos to boot.

Three of the narratives in this collection appear in other collections of mine, namely Loon Wisdom and The Great Wild Silence. Tracks and the remaining two can be found nowhere else. Just as important as Tracks, I think, is the 25-page narrative about a trip into northern Maine that I took in ’96 with my buddy Charlie, following Thoreau to Mt. Katahdin by water and land. We used a two-man sea kayak instead of a bateau and ended up hiking a different path up the mountain, but it was great fun all the same. And it gave me a reason to recount one of Thoreau’s excursions into the Maine Woods.

The real reason for reprinting this book is simply to keep it in print. Backcountry Excursions is now available at Amazon.com as well as the Wood Thrush Books website. Most of my readers are already familiar with this book, but now it’s out there for everyone to see how I got started, and what kind of critter I really am.

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Apr 18 2019

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A Familiar Place

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At long last the snow is melting in the mountains, exposing bare ground. I drove to the base of a favorite valley, parked my car then hiked up the narrow dirt road still closed for the season. About a mile back, I left the road, bushwhacking down to the brook. It felt good to have soft earth underfoot, and to see the heavily silted stream shooting downhill, full of snowmelt.

I tramped through the forest with ease despite downed trees and a few remnant patches of snow, following the brook to places where I’d camped in the past. Then came the two mudslides. Usually I would cross the brook, thus avoiding the mudslides, but the brook had too much water in it. So instead I scrambled on all fours across one slide then the other, until I was deep in the valley. That’s when I stumbled upon a familiar place – a place I’d forgotten about, a place where I caught a sizable brook trout a long time ago.

I settled into an inviting niche along the edge of the pool, just below a huge slab of moss-covered rock. The sun shined brightly through the clear blue sky. The brook roared as it raced past. With temps in the 50s the gentle wind caressing me felt downright balmy. I drank some water, ate a granola bar, and jotted a few lines in my field journal while soaking in the beauty of the forest in early spring.

There are places, wild places, so familiar to me that they feel like home. Most of these places are located in Vermont’s Green Mountains. Some are in the Adirondacks. Upon reaching them, I suddenly get the feeling that everything is right with the world. And whatever was troubling me in the developed places doesn’t matter so much. Go figure.

While tramping out of the woods, I reveled in the great wild silence, happy enough just breathing in the clear mountain air. Once again I felt comfortable in my skin. A good hike is like that. A good hike is nothing more than getting back in touch with one’s animal self. That is enough.

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Feb 19 2018

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Snowshoeing in the Mountains

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Even though I enjoy tramping around local woods, there comes a time when I need a day in the mountains. That day came yesterday, after I’d done all the work that I needed to do for the week.

My dog Matika was all excited when I pulled out my pack, of course. It had been a while since we had last escaped the developed lowlands – longer than I care to admit.

After leaving my car at the bottom of Honey Hollow, I strapped on my snowshoes. Only a few inches of powdery snow covered the road leading up into the hollow, but I figured the ‘shoes would come in handy once I left the road. Twenty minutes later, I bushwhacked down to the brook without breaking through the snow crust beneath the powder. Matika, right on my heels, didn’t sink in either.

The rumble of distant traffic faded until there was only the sound of the mountain brook gurgling beneath the ice. While following the brook, I spotted open leads of water here and there. The occasional gust of wind shook snow from the tree boughs. The conifers added a little green to this otherwise brown and white world. The mottled grey clouds overhead broke open every once in a while, exposing patches of blue sky.

I followed a set of wildcat tracks partially obscured by overnight snowfall. It seemed to know the best route through the woods. Once I’d gone far enough, I tossed a foam pad on the snow then sat against a tree, grooving on the pristine beauty of the wintry scene before me. Matika chewed on a stick once the snacks ran out. Always the writer, I jotted a few thoughts in a field journal. Once it was too cold to sit still, I got moving again.

Snowshoeing up into the hollow was tough going, but the way out seemed effortless. I cut my pace, stopping several times to enjoy the snow-covered forest. All the same, the car appeared before I was ready to quit the woods. So I resolved to get into the mountains again, as soon as possible. It’ll probably be spring or close to it by the time I do so.

 

 

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Oct 07 2017

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Breaking Away

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Yesterday I awoke with a powerful urge to drop everything and head for the hills, but instead of doing that I set to work on my book biz. New acquisitions had to be listed and orders needed to be filled. Then I moped through the first half of the afternoon thinking it was too late to break away.

2:30 pm. With only a few hours of daylight left, I pulled on my hiking boots and hopped in the car. Then I drove as deep into the Green Mountains as I could get in an hour. Some things just can’t wait.

After parking the car, I hiked up a logging road for twenty minutes before bushwhacking over to Basin Brook. Felt good to be in the woods. Felt even better to be sitting next to the brook, listening to the endless murmur of water finding its way downhill.

My dog Matika chewed on a stick as I smoked a cigar. I pondered matters both great and small while sitting there. Eventually I felt the urge to get moving again. So I wandered through the forest with no particular destination in mind. Then I tagged the logging road and headed back to the car well before sunset.

Just what the doctor ordered. Though I’d be hard pressed to explain what it is exactly that I get from a wild place when I visit it, there’s no doubt in my mind that it fills a need deep within. I returned home feeling much better, and ready to resume work.

 

 

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Jul 05 2017

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Grandkids Climb Jay Peak

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We had to wait before setting foot on the trail. The rain was nonstop for days. And even when it did finally stop, the trail was all wet rock and mud with a stream running down it. No matter. We went up the mountain anyway.

I did my best to coax my grandkids into ignoring the mud and water, making sure they had good footing with each step. But that was a lost cause. They hopped around, trying to keep their shoes clean and dry, falling down in the process. We all have to learn that the hard way, I suppose.

“Are we halfway yet?” the kids kept asking, even though they all had energy to spare. As for me, well, I was huffing and puffing ten minutes out the gate, and reduced to a steady creep by the time they found a comfortable pace. The eldest boy Hunter was out front with orders to halt the group whenever they lost sight of me. That happened frequently.

They thought it was pretty cool when the broadleaf trees became conifers, and when the trail became steep and rocky. Reaching a ski path, I told them they could either take the easy route up that path or continue following the white blazes straight ahead. The blazes marked a steeper, even rockier ascent through stunted spruce. They charged up that section of trail without hesitation.

By the time we reached the summit, we were in the clouds. No view for all our hard work. But they thought hiking into the clouds was pretty cool, too. We stayed on the summit long enough to drink water and eat our energy bars. Then we ducked into the nearby building to warm up. That’s when we started missing Grandma. She could have taken the gondola up to meet us.

I think it was Maddie who noticed how dark the woods were when we left the open ski slope. Our descent after that was arduous, thanks to slippery mud and rock. All the same, everyone was glad to have done the hike when we finished. At 3,800 feet, Jay Peak was the biggest mountain any of them had ever climbed.

On the way down, there was some talk about climbing other big mountains in Vermont. But I think next year we’ll hike something with Grandma instead. It was a great hike, but she was definitely missed.

 

 

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Jan 08 2017

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A Good Winter Bushwhack

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A few days ago, I drove to a nearby state park for a short walk at dusk after a full day’s work. My dog Matika enjoyed it, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me. So the next day I did only as much work as necessary before stuffing a few essentials in an old rucksack and heading for the mountains. Time for a taste of wild country. Actually, it was long overdue.

The inch of fresh snow covering the icy woods road provided sufficient traction so the Microspikes stayed in my pack. A mile up the road I turned onto a trail hidden beneath a couple inches of crusty snow. I crunched my way down to the brook, which was still open surprisingly enough. Yeah, it has been a squirrelly winter so far: freeze and thaw then freeze again.

The trail petered out beyond a downed tree. Suddenly I was bushwhacking the familiar route to a favorite spot along the brook. There I once buried the ashes of my first German shepherd dog, Jessie. Matika romped through the woods like a pup despite her eleven years. I was happy to see it. Looks like she’ll be hiking with me a while longer.

Just above the campsite, recent storms had ravaged the banks of the brook, creating mudslides and thickets of downed trees. It was rough getting through there, but it felt good to be in the trackless woods again. I took cover from a chilling breeze coming down the mountain then ate a quick lunch with Matika. My wife Judy had given me an energy bar that’s good for both dogs and people, so Matika and I shared that after our respective meals. People food or dog food? – hard to say.

With temps hovering around 20 degrees, I didn’t linger at the lunch spot. I tagged the trace of an old skidder trail leaving the brook then slowly made my way back to the woods road. Matika negotiated the slippery slope with no difficulty. I dropped to all fours once to do the same.

Out came the Microspikes as I descended the woods road. That made the walk easy enough where I could lose myself in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. In the distance the mountain summits looked cold and forbidding. No matter. Here in a heavily forested hollow, I was having no trouble. In fact, I got back to my car a bit sooner than I would have liked.

A good winter bushwhack. Won’t wait so long before getting out again. There’s more to life than work, work, work.

 

 

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Jul 17 2016

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Before the Rain

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Preston Bk in JulyMy wife wants me out of the house while window shades are being installed. That’s all the excuse I need to drop everything. Never mind that thunderstorms are in the forecast for this afternoon. As soon as I finish doing the bare minimum work for my business, I grab my fly rod, load my dog Matika into the car, and head for the hills.

By midday I am bushwhacking downhill to a favorite brook. A tremendous sense of relief sweeps over me as I tramp through the woods. This is my first excursion into open country in months.

The stream is low, even for midsummer. We need rain. That said, I hope the dark clouds gathering overhead hold off long enough for me to make a few casts. After that, it doesn’t matter.

The stream is beautiful. Crystal clear water finds its way down a rocky streambed surrounded by lush green vegetation. I have walked this brook or ones like it a thousand times yet they never fail to charm me. The rush of flowing water, the cool shade, and that earthy smell – I’m a real sucker for this kind of wildness.

Matika sniffs around as I ply the water with nearly invisible line and tiny fly. When I pull an eight-inch brook trout from its hiding place, she dances around me, chomping at the creature flipping about desperately in my hands. I release it into nearby shallows so that Matika can give chase. She doesn’t stand a chance. The brookie torpedoes out of sight in seconds.

Dripping sweat and menaced by biting insects, I hobble over rocks and around fallen trees for another hour or two, maintaining a low profile to keep from spooking the fish. I catch and release a couple more brookies despite the less-than-ideal fishing conditions. When finally thunder rumbles in the distance, I splash cold water into my face then leave the brook.

The uphill scramble to a dirt track is hard. The amble down the road is easy. I reach my car right before the first raindrops fall. It’s raining by the time the wheels touch pavement. On the highway it’s a downpour. All the way home, I marvel at how lucky I’ve been.

 

 

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Jul 07 2016

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Hiking with Grandkids

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Kids on Stowe PinnacleAt long last, I stopped working long enough to go for a half decent hike. I had the perfect reason to do so. Five of my grandkids came to visit last week and they were ready for action. We went swimming and boating at a local quarry. We went fishing. And when the opportunity arose, we hiked up Stowe Pinnacle for a great view of the valley.

My dog Matika went with us, of course. Grandma Judy stayed in the trailhead parking lot and knitted. She’s not a big one for bagging peaks. I fashioned a hiking stick for Johnny, who stayed close to me during the hike, asking all sorts of questions about the natural world. The others charged ahead.

The eldest boy, Hunter, stopped the gang every once in a while, making sure to keep Grandpa in sight the entire time. I was carrying a rucksack full of water bottles, rain jackets and other accoutrements. That’s my excuse for bringing up the rear. Fact is, all the kids play sports and are in good shape. And Grandpa, well, he’s not as strong a hiker as he used to be.

We started early in the morning. T-storms had been forecast for that afternoon. Tight window. I wanted to get everyone up and down the mountain before the rain came.

The forest was still wet and humid from rain the day before. I kept warning my young hikers about the dangers of a wet trail, but they seemed more interested in the red efts underfoot.

On top I gathered them all for an obligatory snapshot. Then we drank water and ate snacks while enjoying the view. We didn’t linger. A squall crossed the valley just to the south of us. I thought it best to get off the mountain right away.

We felt a few raindrops on the way down but the predicted storm didn’t arrive until we were eating lunch back at the cabin a couple hours later. Nearly everyone slipped and fell once. No one was any worse for it though. Kids are resilient. I was exhausted from the hike yet happy to have done it with them. One doesn’t get a chance to create memories like that every day.

Next year we’ll do Camel’s Hump.

 

 

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