Trip Report: 4 Day 3 Night Grafton Loop

“The Grafton Loop Trail is a 38.6 mile, backcountry hiking experience in the Mahoosuc Mountains of Maine. The trail, which connects to the Appalachian Trail at Old Speck and the East Peak of Baldpate Mountain on either side of ME Route 26, highlights the natural features and mountain peaks of the area encircling Bear River Valley. Because of its length and the terrain it traverses, the trail is strenuous and requires appropriate equipment and preparation.”

I’ve had my mind set on trying some new longer loops this year, and The Grafton Loop was at the top of the list. The mountains of Maine are inviting and remote compared to the high peaks of New Hampshire that I am used to. They’re not as crowded, and the woods just have a whole different personality up there. We tackled the loop as a team of 6, we drove up to Gorham NH to spend night 0 at Hikers Paradise, a hostel I’ve stayed at a few times when hiking in the northern parts of NH.

After checking over all the gear and getting organized and a hearty breakfast, we set off for Maine, spotting a car at the Northern TH on RT26 before heading back to the Southern TH to start our loop. We traveled clockwise; our intention was to go all the way to Bull Branch tent site. We ended up getting caught up in a scary lightning storm atop Sunday River Whitecap, but the rain wasn’t too bad, and we got to Slide tent site and set up camp. This was a nice camp with good water sources and a bear box. After a hearty dinner we went to bed and int he morning we set out on the trail again, heading for Old Speck. The woods here were really nice, and soon we came to the fire tower at the summit. We spent time here taking in the views and eating some lunch. Just after Old Speck the Grafton Loop Trail joins the Appalachian Trail, and we met a few south bound hikers. There are some really nice views back to Old Speck on the way down, as well as some really nice waterfalls. Eventually we made it back to the parking lot, and we quickly did our resupply, crossed the road, and re-entered the woods for the eastern half of the loop. We pushed hard and gained elevation up to Baldpate lean-to. This was my favorite camp, it’s a large lean-to, great water source and privy, and a small fire ring. I think some group had been up there the night before having a 4th of July party, it was sad to see they left so much trash behind.

Day 3 was going to be difficult, we knew it from the get go. We got an early start and headed up towards Baldpate. This section is very ledgy and has some ladders in places. I really like this terrain and the views are fantastic from East Baldpate. Again we met more south bound hikers at the summit and chatted with them for a bit. We couldn’t stay long as we had a long day of hiking to get to our final camp, Stewart. We hiked up and over Long Mountain, and along the ridge, going past some very inviting campsites. Lane is right along the river and looked like it had some great swimming hole potential, but we really needed to push on the Stewart to ensure we’d have a nice easy 5 mile hike out on Sunday. This section was very overgrown in some places, and the bugs were much worse than the rest of the loop. It was a good 13 mile push, with an unwelcome climb halfway up Puzzle Mountain at the end, but we arrived at Stewart and met 1 solo Grafton Loop hiker. We set up our camp and made dinner again, and had a wash up in the stream. In the morning we packed up and headed for the summit of Puzzle. Again there’s some fantastic views of the whole park from the top, it really is nice to look back and see all the places we’d hiked over the past 2 days. We got down and back to our cars, had a celebratory beverage and headed to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center for some much needed showers, and then onto Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing Co for a big lunch.

This was a great trip, my first time camping out for 3 nights. Surprisingly my legs weren’t even that sore after! East Baldpate was my 89th summit for the New England Hundred Highest list. I’m getting close!!

Distance: 37.93 mi
Time: 73:11:48
Elevation Gain: 12,710 ft

Photo Slideshow

GPS/GPX Link

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Gear Review: Esbit Alcohol Burner / GSI Halulite Minimalist Cookset / Evernew Titanium Cross Stand

I’ve been wanting to try out an alcohol stove for a while, and finally decided to take the plunge. Alcohol burning stoves are one of the simplest and most popular options for cooking in the great outdoors. A simple cup shape design allows unpressurized alcohol to be burned providing an efficient source of heat. There are multiple fuel sources for an alcohol stove, the most common being methanol, like HEET, or isopropyl alcohol. Alcohol stoves are regarded as one of the most nature-friendly options for cooking in the wilderness.

For most trips my Jetboil Flash is perfect. It wasn’t until I attended a presentation by adventurer Andrew Skurka that I started wanting to try something different. It’s not an ultralight setup in my opinion, total weight is close to my Jetboil, but the size should be a bit less.  One benefit is that it is much less prone to failure, as there aren’t any moving parts that could lead to failure. Skurka uses a much simpler system, the cat food can stove, which is very wieght friendly. When I first started with the idea of a 2nd stove, I thought it would come in much lighter, but in truth, the Jetboil wins there.

This is where I am at so far, check back soon for an updated on how it packs down, and how it performs in the field. Those seeking a true ultra light-weight setup might consider: http://www.evernewamerica.com/ECA268.htm

There are some great points about alcohol stoves here:

http://www.thesodacanstove.com/alcohol-stove/myths.html

http://andrewskurka.com/how-to/how-to-make-a-fancy-feast-alcohol-stove/

The Burner:

Esbit Alcohol Burner

I chose this model because it was the only one I found that allows you to store the fuel inside the burner if you wish. The screw top lid adds very little weight, and the included simmer ring/snuffer cap with fold away handle is a nice touch. I’ve been able to light the stove with a spark from a firesteel in indoor testing. Evernew does make a titanium version, for those seriously counting ounces.

The Cooking Vessel:

 GSI Halulite Minimalist Cookset

I wanted a metal mug with a lid that I could boil water in, and also drink from, and hopefully, store most of my stove setup inside of. The GSI Halulite Minimalist Cookset does this well, and it’s unique 0.6 L pot and lid boil water for pouch meals before transforming into an insulated mug by simply inverting the lid and slipping the pot into its included sleeve. Also included are the Silicone Gripper and a spork.

The Fuel:
I bought a 32oz jug of denatured alcohol/marine stove fuel for less than $5.00. That should last a good long while. I can store 2.5 ounces in the burner itself, but I plan to carry 8oz in a squeeze type bottle.

The Stand:

I bought the burner as part of a larger kit that came with two pots and a stand, but for a true ultra lightwieght setup I leave that stuff at home and use the Evernew Titanium Cross Stand to support the GSI mug atop the burner. I haven’t yet decided if I will add something to put the burner on, in winter it may prove necessary, but for now, the closest rock or stump will do. The stand is half an ounce.

The Windscreen:
I also purchased a windscreen from Ultralight Designs.
Features:
•Edges are rolled for added strength and safety
•Made from a soft temper aluminum sheet so it can be rolled or folded many times
•Roll it around your fuel bottle for easy storage.

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The Summary:

Weight 19.5oz

Evernew Titanium Cross Stand:         0.5 oz
Esbit Alcohol Burner:                           3.2 oz
GSI Halulite Minimalist Cookset       6.3 oz
8oz of Denatured Alcohol + bottle     9.0 oz (est)
Ultralight Designs Med Windscreen  0.5oz

http://goo.gl/BiUpK

New England Hundred Highest – Mount Nancy, NH

It’s been awhile since I’ve set out to chase down another peak on the New England Hundred Highest list, so with a Sunday free and clear I decided to get out to the White Mountains. This was my 80th/100. Mount Nancy, elevation 3927ft, is located in Grafton county New Hampshire. There is no official trail to the summit, but there is a maintained trail from NH302 up to Norcross Pond, and a herd path direct to the summit from there. When doing my pre-hike information gathering, I found many trip reports and even a GPS track to follow, so I felt well prepared. Knowing it would involve some bushwhacking, I decided to go with a smaller pack. The trail begins on the eastern side of NH302 and quickly climbs to Nancy Pond at around 3,000ft, then continues on to the official trails terminus at Norcross Pond.

The trail begins on an old road of sorts, with a very gentle grade, and gets more difficult as time goes on. After a short while and several water crossings, some of which might be quite difficult at high water, I arrived at Nancy Cascades. It was running very well thanks to some rainfall in the day prior, and I spent some time here taking photos. From the cascade the trail meanders up and around to the top of the falls and steeply climbs to meet Nancy Pond, and eventually Norcross ponds. There were many sunken bog bridges between the falls and the ponds. Once arriving at the outlet of norcross pond, there is a path directly over ones right shoulder when looking at the No Camping sign. I followed this path and it soon came to a junction, to the right is a very nice campsite, to the left, the “unmaintained” trail that very steeply climbs to the summit of Mt. Nancy. Rain was threatening all day, but we did get some very nice views from the outlook.

 

 

        

 

Distance: 10.11 mi
Time: 7:33:48
Avg Pace: 44:54 min/mi
Elevation Gain: 3,210 ft

GPS/GPX Track

Trip Report: Mt Guyot Backpack 9/22/2012

Saturday we set out from Zealand road, our destination: Guyot Shelter, just off the Appalachian Trail. I have camped here many times before and always enjoy the hike there, any time spent in the pemigewasset wilderness is a good time. We hiked up the Zealand Trail to Zealand Hut, and continued up to the twinway, then headed south on the Bondcliff Trail, and took the spur path down to the camp.

The forecast called for a chance of late night thunderstorms, and temperatures in the mid 40’s, so I packed some extra layers, but decided to take my 35-degree EMS sleeping bag with a liner instead of my bigger 0-degree bag. I don’t ever get real fancy with my backpacking food, dinner was Mountain House dehydrated chilli-mac, and the normal assortment of snacks, bars, oatmeal and fruit for breakfast and lunch. The hike in was harder than I remembered, with some rough trail with large rocks in some places. Much to my suprise, The Guyot tentsite and shelter were nearly full when we arrived, but we were able to get a spot on a tent platform. It did rain overnight, but I was more than more enough. Sunday we packed up, and decided that we would skip the bonds and just hike out, and just enjoy the views from atop Mt Guyot. We spent a good amount of time on Zeacliff as well. A great weekend and lots of foliage color. Also, I was very impressed with the new bridges constructed on the trail into Zealand Hut.

   

 

Trip Report: Vermont NEHH Peaks – Mount Mendon, Killington, Mount Pico

I’ve been to Killington once before, when I first really got into hiking a few years back, now 79 of the New England Hundred Highest later, I decided to return for another visit there and it’s neighbors, the ski mountain Pico, and the trail-less Mendon.

 

 

 

We started out on the newly rerouted Bucklin Trail, which was damaged heavily from hurricane Irene last year. The new reroute was easy to follow and very well designed. We made good time up the trail to it’s intersection with the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail, and unpacked our camping gear at Cooper Lodge, a 16 person shelter. I had stopped here last time to change layers last time I hiked Killington in the rain, and had been excited about camping here once again. The shelter has open air window holes, 4 walls, 4 platforms, a table, and a roof. The windows face to the west, so we had a decent sunset view later that evening. It also has a very interesting privy.

 

 

After we had lunch and pumped some water, we set off to find the herd path I had read about. This was the first time I set out to a trail-less peak on my own, but I got some really good information from friends, and even stitched together a few different GPS tracks to make what I thought was the best route for my plan. We headed out on the AT/LT heading south and soon took a right onto the heardpath I had mapped out on my GPS. The herdpath was very easy to follow once we found it, it is very unassuming and one could easily walk by it without knowing it was even there. We followed it for about a mile and had no trouble at all. I often thought to myself, “this non-trail is in better shape than some real trails”. It then joined the old logging road, and the bushwhacking commenced at a small cairn on the side of the road. We lost the herd path from there a few times but eventually found ourselves on the false summit of Mendon, and then pushed on to find the canister atop the true peak. We then returned back to Cooper Lodge and had some dinner, and watched the sun go down. Just after sunset we heard a loud rustling in the woods very close and I was concerned it might be a bear, but after turning on my headlamp, realized it was just a large porcupine. I slept well that night, we had the shelter all to ourselves. In the morning we packed up, went up to Killington, and started out on our way to Pico via some ski trails and the AT/LT. It would have been easier if we had stayed on the AT/LT, but I did luck out when hiking up on a ski trail, I found a GoPro that had been sitting there in it’s waterproof case since 2009 based on the video on it. We dropped packs at Pico camp and went out and back to the the summit. I found the official summit amongst some construction equipment at the top. Luckily we met some nice hikers that agreed to shuttle us back to our car back at the Buckin trail, so we hiked out with them to Sherburne Pass, saving us the long hike back to Cooper lodge and down the Bucklin Trail again.

GPS TRACK

Distance: 15.72 mi
Time: 26:14:32
Elevation Gain: 4,423 ft

Gear Review: Gerber Infinity Ultra LED Flashlight

I own several different backpacks for different reasons, multi-day backpacks, short 3-season day hikes, day-packs, etc. One thing I always struggle with is keeping my must-have gear with me no matter which pack I have for that particular adventure. Usually this includes a headlamp, fire starting device, pocket knife and/or multi tool, my compass, and my trusty Gerber Infinity Ultra LED Flashlight.

This tiny flashlight is very well built, I’ve dropped it many times without incident, and provides a great output of light in a pinch, and its even waterproof up to 10 feet. I always find myself wishing I had one for every backpack. It fits my system well, as it takes a single AA battery, as does my headlamp, GPS, and camera. The included clip is excellent and wont slip off, and the 8 lumen bulb projects a nice beam up to 30 feet. This is not a substitute for a headlamp, but its great to have in your pack at all times as a just in case, I make sure to have it on me when going to sleep in my tent, as it’s output is just perfect for finding my way to the bathroom when camping with others that don’t want to be disturbed by my 100 lumen headlamp beam. Gerber estimates a burn time of 100 hours from a fully charged battery, and stands behind their build with a limited lifetime warranty.

 

 

 


The Gerber Infinity Ultra LED flashlight shines a true white light to illuminate the task at hand.

Therm-A-Rest Neo Air

I borrowed a friends Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping pad on my last hike and was presently surprised. I was so surprised that I sent back my current pad and bought this one. The weight and pack-ability are far superior to anything I have ever used. I found it to be very comfortable and the size to weight to price ratio worth it. I look forward to using it on some late fall and winter backpacks this year. With an R-value of 4.9 and 2.5 inch thickness, the sleeping pad provides excellent insulation from the cold ground. The long size weighs in at only 25 ounces and packs up to be about the size of a Nalgene bottle.

 

 


The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season sleeping pad lets you sleep outside in any season. The high R-value and increased thickness bring greater comfort and warmth to backcountry outings.