Tag Archive 'hiking'

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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Aug 15 2019

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Focus on the Adirondacks

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Have returned home from another 2-day tour of the Adirondacks, similar to last month’s trip. Visited several bookstores to promote my old Northville/Placid hiking narrative, The Allure of Deep Woods, along with my latest book, The Great Wild Silence. Tuesday evening I schmoozed with a couple dozen writers and even more readers during Authors Night at Hoss’s Country Store in Long Lake. That was fun. But just being in the Adirondacks again is what really made the trip worthwhile. How I love that wild country!

Once again, I spent the night in a shelter at John Dillon Park, falling asleep to the call of loons then awakening to them in the morning. The second day, after one last stop at The Book Nook – a new bookstore in Saranac Lake – I climbed Baker Mountain. It’s located right on the edge of town. Only a mile to the summit, though rather steep towards the end. On top I enjoyed a nice view of the High Peaks with Saranac Lake sprawling below.

I’m shifting my focus. After hiking the Cohos Trail through New Hampshire’s White Mountains and beyond, I’m now looking west. Oh sure, I’ll continue visiting familiar places in the Green Mountains right here in Vermont, but what I crave is wide open country, new wild lands to explore during the years to come. I’ve only tramped though half of the Wilderness Areas and Wild Forests inside the Blue Line. I’d like to spend time in them all. With that goal in mind, I have picked up two more maps of the Adirondacks – part of a set of six canvassing the entire park. I now have five.

Six million acres and most of it wild country. The Adirondack Park is roughly the same size at Vermont. Forests, mountains, streams, lakes, ponds and bogs. And a thin network of roads and tourist towns to boot. Plenty to keep me busy during the next decade or so. Looking forward to it.

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Jul 29 2019

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A Short Midday Hike

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The good thing about being self-employed is that you can take a break whenever you want. But actually doing so isn’t as easy as one might think. My little book biz makes demands. I’ve been working hard at it ever since I came off the Cohos Trail a little over a month ago. All the same, at noon today I felt the urge to pull on my hike boots and make a beeline for a patch of nearby woods right after dropping off the day’s shipping at the post office. So that’s what I did.

Midday, high summer. Okay, maybe not the best time to go hiking. With temps in the upper 80s and the humidity through the roof, the forest would be a sauna. But I needed to stretch my legs while traipsing through the woods, if only for a short while. And I was prepared to sweat. Sometimes you just have to go for it.

The hike wasn’t as sweaty as expected. The shady woods diffused some of the heat, and an occasional gust of wind made the humidity quite tolerable. I meandered along the trail happy to be back in my element again, if only for an hour or so. Had the woods all to myself, of course. That was a bonus. And the bugs were nothing like they were a month ago. Is there really such a thing as a bad time to go for a hike? Thoreau would have said no.

While walking through the sultry forest, I thought about my hike on the Cohos Trail last month. Told myself that I really should start writing about that outing while my memories of it are fresh. But I’d rather be hiking. Funny how it goes. Hiking and writing about hiking are two different things. Ah, well… I do as much of both as I can. I’ll be able to do both in August, now that my book biz has been squared away. It all works out.

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Apr 10 2019

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Bare Ground

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Awoke to snow this morning. Just a dusting of it that would melt off before the end of the day, but snow all the same.

Snow or no, I had to get outdoors. So after dealing with the IRS and other sources of infinite frustration for most of the day, I slipped on my boots and headed for French Hill.

The plan was to do a little bushwhacking across a mix of snow and bare ground. But not more than five minutes into the hike, I was slogging through several inches of old, crusty snow left over from winter. Not what I had in mind, so I aborted.

Shortly thereafter, I was walking the mostly bare ground of the Rail Trail on the Champlain Valley floor. Much better. I flushed half a dozen robins from the trail as I hiked at a good clip. That assured me that it is spring despite the white stuff lingering like a tiresome drunk at the end of a party. The steady breeze out of the north had a chill to it. Temps hovered around 40. All the same, I was able to take off my hat half a mile into the walk.

When I reached the half-frozen wetlands, I was hoping to catch the high-pitched chirp of a spring peeper, but it’s too early for that. Patience. Another week or two. Instead I enjoyed the steady rush of meltwater in the cut running parallel to the trail. This time of year, we need to take our simple pleasures wherever we can find them.

Before returning to the car, a shy sun peaked from the gray clouds overhead, offering a ray of hope. The warm season is running a little late this year but it’ll get here. And my next outing, if I stay out of the hills and mountains a while longer, will be nothing but bare ground.

 

 

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Mar 28 2019

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Between Winter and Spring

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Yesterday I went for a hike despite the foot of snow dumped by last weekend’s storm. I’m sick of winter, but with the sun shining through an azure sky and temps in the 40s by afternoon, I simply had to go out.

I went to Milton Pond, assuming that the trail around it had been packed down by other restless souls. That was, if fact, the case. All the same, it’s a good thing I had Microspikes on my boots. The trail was icy in places and the snow punky in other places. Without the ‘spikes, I would have done a lot of sliding around.

I hiked at a good clip, soon breaking a sweat. I was smart enough to leave my sweater in the car, but had to strip off my jacket halfway around the pond and carry it. It’s always a strange feeling being in shirtsleeves while traveling over snow. That’s the smart thing to do sometimes, between winter and spring. Still it felt strange…

Looked like winter but felt like spring. The pond was iced over, of course, and there was snow everywhere. Yet a springtime sun shined brightly, meltwater ran fast through runoff streams, and the buds on maple trees were swollen. Definitely between seasons.

I thought about my recently deceased dog Matika during the hike, and how she would have enjoyed the outing a couple years ago, back when she could handle it. We enjoyed a lot of good hikes together through the years. But when I saw a yellow spot along the side of the trail, I was glad I didn’t have to stop and wait for her to sniff it. Slowly adjusting to hiking alone again. There are certain advantages to it, no doubt.

 

 

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