Tag Archive 'hiking'

Jan 16 2022

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Winter Woods

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This morning I awoke to temps below zero. Yesterday the same. The day before that I went for a short hike once temps had climbed into the teens after a similar dip. In the depths of winter here in northern New England, one is wise to get outdoors when one can.

The trail cutting through a local patch of woods was well traveled. Clearly I wasn’t the only person taking advantage of the occasional bouts of fair weather between snowstorms and deep freezes. Surprisingly, I passed only one other restless soul during my hike. The rest of the time, I had the woods all to myself.

Aside from the distant hum of traffic, all was quiet as I walked. No songbirds, no wind in the trees, nothing. I listened to the sound of my own breathing as I ambled along. The clean, cold air filled my lungs, and I barely broke a sweat beneath my layers. It always feels good to be physical after long hours of screen time.

Yeah, I work too hard at my desktop computer this time of year. That’s one way to get through winter – to make the most of it, to be productive. I work much less and get outdoors a lot more during the warmer months, as most Vermonters do. But even during the coldest months, one needs to recreate every once in a while. Skiers look at things differently, of course.

I’ve lived in Vermont for nearly 40 years. During that time, I’ve developed an appreciation for snow. Winter isn’t my favorite season, but there is something about a snow-covered landscape beneath a clear blue sky that is quite charming. Dare I say beautiful? I wouldn’t want to live in a place that gets no snow. A walk in the woods this time of year reminds me of that. And 15 degrees above zero isn’t bad at all when the wind isn’t blowing.

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Dec 05 2021

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A Good Day to Get Outdoors

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I hunkered down to work as the length of day slipped below 9 hours, but I could feel myself sliding into a funk all the same. I needed to get outdoors. After a week of wintry conditions, with snow covering the ground and temps staying below freezing, I looked for a window of sunshine in the forecast. It came Friday morning as promised – the sky breaking open after a snow squall at breakfast. I took care of what business had to be addressed then headed for Niquette Bay State Park.

Niquette Bay, on the shores of Lake Champlain, isn’t exactly deep woods but I figured the snow covering the ground would be negligible here, unlike the mountains. Sure enough, there was only a trace of white stuff left. Rain the day before had washed away most of it. I had tucked a pair of Microspikes into my jacket but didn’t have to use them. My boots provided traction enough as I hiked at a brisk pace across the half-frozen ground.

The clouds cleared out during my walk, allowing sunlight to wash over the landscape. That’s what I came out for primarily, but stretching my legs and breathing in the cool, clean air also felt good. I cut my pace, in no hurry to do the three-mile loop around the park. A short climb uphill gave me a bit of an aerobic workout. After cresting the summit of the hill, I stopped long enough to enjoy a good view of the snowcapped Mt. Mansfield looming over the Champlain Valley. That and the forest sprawling at my feet reminded me why I live in Vermont. Nature struts its stuff here.

Life is good when the sun is shining no matter what time of year it is. The days are short this time of year so smart Vermonters get outdoors and enjoy the sunlight when they can. Like everyone else I’m a thinking creature, comfortable enough with indoor life and all my abstractions. But I’m a creature all the same. The elements leave their mark on me, and most of the time that’s a good thing.

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Nov 12 2021

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Ridiculously Philosophical

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Last week I finished writing a ridiculously philosophical work, Nature and the Absolute. Don’t expect to see this book in print anytime soon. I like to give my books time to ferment before giving them the final edit then publishing them. But the heavy lifting is done for all practical purposes. This project has kept me quite busy during the past year and a half. And yes, it is ridiculously philosophical, which is to say I’ve gone as deep into metaphysical matters as it’s possible to go.

After finishing this book I went into the mountains, bushwhacking to a favorite place that will remain unnamed. Upon reaching that place, I put forth to the surrounding trees my reasons for writing such a ridiculously philosophical work. The trees, of course, were unimpressed. They are too busy being trees in engage in the kind of abstract thinking that creatures like me feel the need to do. But it felt good to voice my reasons for all nature to hear. Nature is, after all, what my latest, most ridiculously philosophical work is all about. Nature in the absolute sense of the word, that is. Nature spelled with a capital “N.”

For most of my life, I have shouted the question “Why?” into the universe, trying to understand What-Is. I have wandered and wondered and written over twenty books in my long and winding journey towards understanding natural order. I have read thousands of books and have pondered essence and existence to the point of absurdity. In the final analysis, when it comes to knowing the mind of God (which is what it all boils down to), all I can say it this: I don’t know. And that, I believe, is the most honest thing that I or any other thinking creature can say.

Oh sure, I have my wild speculations about What-Is and harbor all kinds of strong opinions about this, that, and everything else. But my admission of unknowing seemed to resonate with the surrounding trees, the roaring brook, the deep blue sky overhead, and all the rest of the natural world. I say this because, as a woods wanderer, my unknowing matches The Great Mystery that is nature. So stay tuned for the eventual release of my deepest probe into this matter. Then you’ll see for yourself just how ridiculously philosophical this book and my worldview really are.

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Oct 30 2021

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Up Bamforth Ridge

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After a round of writing early in the morning, I grabbed my rucksack and headed for the mountains. To avoid hunters, I went high. To avoid other people, I hiked the Long Trail south out of the Winooski River Valley towards Camels Hump. I figured few people would be trying to climb up that mountain from this approach: six miles, a roughly 3,500 feet base-to-summit rise. I planned on going only part way.

I was half right. I encountered a bunch of other hikers during the 1.5-mile section of trail up to a lookout called Duxbury Window, but hardly anyone after that. A young woman thru-hiking the LT blew past me. No one else was on the ridge. The trail becomes steep in places beyond the lookout, and was muddy after a couple days of rain. But I was happy enough motoring along, breaking a sweat in the cool air. It felt good to be away from my desk on a beautiful, clear sky day — what could be the last nice day before the snow flies.

From an opening in the trees, I saw a bump on the ridge well short of the summit. I set that as my goal. Years ago I had done this same hike and had stopped for lunch on a rocky outcropping with a nearly 360-degree view. I surmised that it was on that bump. But without a map handy, I wasn’t sure. I was hiking from memory.

Just short of 3 miles, I detoured to the Bamforth Ridge Shelter, wondering if I’d stopped here before. Upon reaching it, I still didn’t know. It didn’t look familiar. How long ago did I last hike this ridge? Before I had my dog Matika as a hiking companion. She’s been gone a while now. That means I last hiked this trail 14 years ago, at least. Whoa!

My knees were starting to complain by the time I reached the bump on the ridge. It felt more like a false summit as I climbed it. To my surprise, it was completely wooded. I pulled out my cell phone to check the time. Well into the afternoon already, hmm…. I sat down long enough to eat lunch and drink as much water as I could. Then I turned back.

Wet and covered with leaves, the steep sections of the trail were somewhat treacherous. I took my time, carefully placing my feet during the descent. I was glad to have a hiking stick to keep my balance. I was feeling played out by the time I got back to the lookout, but it was a pleasant walk through late autumn foliage from there. I got back to the trailhead with two hours of daylight left, no problem. But next time I go out, I’ll plan better and carry a map. Memory can’t be trusted.

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Oct 08 2021

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Autumnal Color

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Well, it’s that time of year again. Summertime is long gone but the vibrant colors of autumn are now upon us. So the other day I set my work aside long enough to enjoy the season.

I slipped on my boots then headed for a town forest only eight miles away. Didn’t expect to see good color in the forest understory, but I wanted to stretch my legs on a hiking trail while I was outdoors. I figured there would be good color at the beaver pond about half a mile back. Sure enough, there was.

Along with remnant green in the foliage, there were gold, burnt orange and rust hues, as well. Under a mostly sunny sky, the colors really jumped out at me. This is what northern New England does best. I’ve lived here over thirty-five years yet I’m still dazzled by it.

The rest of my hike was a dreamy meander through a mostly green understory. It’ll be another couple weeks here in the Champlain Valley before all the vegetation has turned. No matter. On a beautiful day with temps in the sixties, it feels great just being in the forest. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Spring is my favorite season; summer pulls a close second. But there is something about walking in the woods in the fall that can’t be beat, despite the shortening of daylight and the fact that winter isn’t far away. It’s all good, I suppose — all of nature’s configurations and moods. It’s good to be alive in this magnificent world. I don’t take it for granted.

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Jul 30 2021

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When Least Expected

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A few days ago Judy and I lingered in the Northeast Kingdom after visiting family at Lake Wallace, clear up in the northeast corner of Vermont. We drove past the small town of Island Pond to the Wenlock Wildlife Management Area. Then we walked the trail to Moose Bog Pond. We had encountered some interesting birds there during a visit last year and hoped to do so again.

The trail is a short, easy, nearly flat path winding through a spruce/fir forest that’s home to the ever-elusive spruce grouse. I caught a glimpse of that bird last year but it disappeared before Judy could get a photo. No matter. There were plenty of friendly red-breasted nuthatches and grey jays to entertain us at Moose Bog Pond back then.

But that was last year. This year the grey jays were nowhere to be seen, and the nuthatches were skittish. A great blue heron was feeding at the pond, but it was too far away for Judy to get a good shot. So she photographed northern pitcher plants as we hung out for a while on the boardwalk jutting into the bog surrounding the pond. It was a beautiful summer day in the woods so we were happy just being there. All the same, I could tell that Judy was a tad disappointed.

On the way out, Judy took pictures of some interesting mushrooms while I crept ahead. That’s when I caught a little movement out of the side of my eye. I looked over and, sure enough, there was a spruce grouse half-hidden in the dense understory. I froze in place then signaled to Judy. She was looking down at the time and didn’t see me at first, but I didn’t dare say a word. Remarkably, the grouse didn’t move away. Then Judy saw me gesturing wildly and slowly moved in to photograph the bird. Even more remarkably, the grouse turned around giving Judy an even better view. She took a bunch of pictures.

Isn’t that the way it goes when dealing with wildlife? How many times have I gone looking for a creature only to come up empty-handed? How many times have they popped up, taking me completely by surprise? It’s all very serendipitous.

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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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May 14 2021

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Ridge Gambling

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I was in the mood for a big hike yesterday so I drove to Lake George to explore the Tongue Mountain Range. That range runs parallel to the lake, with the second half of it on a peninsula jutting southward. There’s a trail along the top of the range – nine miles over half a dozen summits. I couldn’t possibly do all that and retrace my steps in one day, so I started at Clay Meadows Trailhead near the middle. I climbed a thousand feet over two miles to reach the top of the ridge. Then I headed south towards Fifth Peak.

Half a mile along the ridge, a side trail goes up to a lean-to atop Fifth Peak. I took that. Upon reaching the lean-to, I encountered a nice couple from Buffalo, Matt and Carmen, who had spent the night. I chatted with them a short while before snapping a few pictures of the lake from a lookout. Then I returned to the main trail and continued south along the ridge towards French Point Mountain. I had read online that there was a great view from the top of it.

Headed south, I gradually lost a hundred and fifty feet of elevation along the ridge as expected, then went up a slight rise before the trail dropped sharply down into a col another several hundred feet. Hmm… I would have to climb up this on my way back to the trailhead. Oh well. That’s the way ridge running goes. Up and down.

After reaching the col I began an ascent up what I thought was French Point Peak. It turned out to be just a bump on the ridge. Nice views from lookouts there, as well, so I thought about stopping. But no, the day was young and I still had plenty of strength. The third descent was almost as steep as the second one. The ridge upped the ante another hundred feet or so. I kept going. After another short ascent, the trail dropped again. Now I was concerned about all the climbing I would have to do on the way out. Ridge gambling. Would the view be worth it? I matched the ridge’s ante and kept going.

One last climb before reaching the top of French Point Mountain, a good two miles south of Fifth Peak. Then I walked out to the edge of a cliff for a spectacular view. Lake George sprawled fifteen miles south before me, and another ten miles or so north towards Ticonderoga. The sun shined brightly from a partly cloudy sky. A few black flies came out as temps rose into the 60s. I enjoyed the view while eating lunch. Then I turned around and faced the long, arduous hike back to the car.

Four ascents over two miles, back to Fifth Peak. Then another two and a half miles down to the trailhead parking lot. I climbed 2,500 feet total, hiking nine miles. During the last mile, the muscles around my partially worn-out right knee began to cramp. By then I was out of water and the black flies were swarming. Was it worth it? Absolutely! The gamble had paid off, but I couldn’t have gone another mile.

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Mar 15 2021

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A Preview of Spring

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For four days last week temps spiked well above freezing here in northern Vermont, once getting into the 50s. I went out every day, and that severely cut into my literary productivity. Not that it matters. This time of year, it’s best to get out and enjoy balmy weather while it lasts.

Judy and I went birding one of those days, driving down to Addison County to see what we could see. A couple hawks, some starlings, and lots of crows were all that appeared. Still just a little too early for all the migrating birds to arrive from the south. Or at least it was last week.

On the warmest of those days, I slogged through half a foot of melting snow while exploring Silver Lake Woods, about fifteen miles to the south of where I live. Without snowshoes, that was a real workout. Didn’t mind it too much, though. That backcountry lake is a pretty one, even when iced over. I look forward to going back there when the ice is out.

Cold mud. That’s what I got into on the last day. With the snow melting off fast, the top layer of soil was exposed and thawed in places. It felt good to leave my boot prints in it. Messy but good.

Today we’re back into the deep freeze, with temps in the single digits at daybreak. But I’ve got a feeling this is the end of winter. The Spring Equinox is only 5 days away, and there are above-freezing temps in the forecast. Spring is the season of hope and rebirth, when the flowering plants come out of their deep, months-long slumber. I never tire of it. The cycle is complete, once again, and it all begins anew. Eternal nature. For a pantheist like me, early spring is a religious experience.

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Mar 27 2020

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Getting Outside

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Judy and I have been staying home for a while now, staying away from other people that is, as strongly urged by the Vermont governor and health authorities. It’s the best way to slow the spread of Covid-19. But “social distancing” doesn’t mean staying indoors all the time. That can drive a person stir crazy, especially in the end of winter. So we’ve started getting outside and walking more.

Yesterday we hiked in the Milton Town Forest. We left our car in a full parking lot then set forth on a fine gravel trail that soon became a wide, muddy path. Seeing all the boot prints in the mud, and passing several groups of other day hikers, it soon became clear to us that this trail is being used more this spring than usual. That’s bad for the trail but good for everyone’s mental health.

Temps crept above fifty degrees in the middle of the afternoon, quickly melting off the patches of remnant snow. Evergreen woodferns still pressed to the ground were a welcome sight, as was the bright green moss on rocks and downed trees. Spring runoff filled the brooklets – their trickling over rocks being music to our ears. The grey, leafless trees still had the taint of winter about them, but the occasional bird calling out softened that.

Halfway to Milton Pond, it became clear to me that the spring season is unfolding in all its cold-mud glory. I love it! But Judy was too concerned about the slippery trail underfoot to enjoy it at first. Not until we reached the pond did she start grooving on the wild. Then I had to be patient. On the way back to the parking lot, she stopped several times just to look around. I did my best to keep from rushing her.

Today won’t be quite as warm but we intend to get outside and go for a hike again. The pandemic rages on tv, but the forest retains its eternal calm. The latter is the better choice. There’s no doubt in our minds where we’d rather focus our attention, anyhow.

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