My 2021 Seasonal Highlights

It was only when putting together this 8th edition of my hiking highlights by season that I realized that, aside from a few day-trips into neighboring New York, I did not leave the bounds of New England in 2021—for hiking or any other purpose. This is an observation, not a cause of regret. New England is bigger than many countries and its northern three states are thinly populated. It is not a place that confines.

Looking back on the year has always elicited feelings of gratitude—for nature, for health, and for many other blessings. Above all though, I am just grateful to have trudged on for another year, putting one foot in front of the other to experience what’s out there.

Happy Trails in 2022.

[2020 Highlights, including links to yet older editions.]

THE 2021 HIGHLIGHTS:

WINTER: Bennetts Pond, Ridgefield CT, February 13th. My main memory of this loop with Stephen Drew is losing the trail in virgin snow on Wooster Mountain and the considerable effort we expended slogging through the stuff to get back down to the Pond.

SPRING: On Mount Ellen, Warren VT, June 5th. This climb was part of a “yee-haw, I’m fully vaccinated and can now travel” trip, and was special also for the company of my youngest, Marjorie, and her boyfriend Colin.

SUMMER: Above the mist on Blueberry Mountain, Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness, Maine, 9 a.m. August 30th—a great start to four days of NH and ME hiking. 

FALL: Gale River beneath Garfield Ridge, White Mountains NH, October 17th. I was on my way down from several summits, all of which had been far warmer than my previous experiences of mid-October in the Whites—no snow or rime or biting wind, just mist and rain for the most part.

Day Hike Notes – North and South Kinsman

The day before—Franconia Ridge from Cannon Mountain

In my book about a hike across Scotland, I wrote:

By early evening the Inchnadamph Hotel was transformed. The bar was open, coal and wood blazed in the grate, and other guests were making an appearance. There were two “munro-baggers” from the north of England, men about my age. A munro is a Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet, and a bagger a fool who aims to climb all 283. It’s the kind of insane obsession I could easily fall into.

Well, I didn’t fall into a peak-bagging obsession anytime soon, but I must now admit that it is closer than ever before. Here’s why.

My youngest’s boyfriend, Colin, recently completed the “Adirondack 46”, a few in the company of my daughter. Now, I have been hiking New Hampshire’s White Mountains, irregularly, for 14 years and had certainly been up a peak or two. I’d heard of the New Hampshire 4,000 Footers list (48 peaks) and put it in the “insane obsession” category. But on recent trips to the Granite State I found myself wondering how many of the 48 I had climbed listlessly, so to speak. Sixteen, it turned out, by mid-October. And now I must admit that the short trip that is the subject of this post was made with the express intention of ticking off three more peaks—oh dear!

So, a warm-up on Cannon Mountain on the Friday afternoon, followed by the Kinsmans on Saturday. 29 to go.

DATE: Saturday, November 6th.
START & FINISH: Lafayette Campground, Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire (GPS 44.141929, -71.684052).
ROUTE: Lonesome Lake and Cascade Brook trails to Appalachian Trail (AT) at south end of Lonesome Lake, then AT (AKA here the Fishin’ Jimmy and Kinsman Ridge trails) to North and South Kinsman summits. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: 10.2 miles roundtrip.
TIME: 9 hours (7:15am to 4:15pm).
TERRAIN: 2,600-foot net elevation gain. The going was toughest from about halfway up Fishin’ Jimmy until gaining North Kinsman (and on the same stretch going down). It would have been steep and rough on any day, but today ice made it especially grueling and precarious. Think glazed boulders, lots of tree-grasping, and a certain amount of butt time. The picture below, actually taken the day before on Cannon Mountain, gives some idea of the trail conditions, although it does not show the full variety of hazard & obstacle.
MAP: AMC White Mountains Trail Map #2.

A taste of the descent (see TERRAIN)

WEATHER: Sunny, calm, below freezing early and high up.
WILDLIFE: Nothing that I recall from this distance.

BREAKFAST: Gas station muffin and coffee.
LUNCH: I made no recognizable lunch stop. A tortilla smeared with peanut butter on my second pause on North Kinsman was as good as it got.
UPS: South Kinsman definitely—the views to Franconia Ridge and a couple of friendly hiker-chats.
DOWNS: My enjoyment of the descent off North Kinsman on the return leg (see TERRAIN) definitely wore off after a thousand feet or so—hard on the knees and the concentration.
KIT: Above around 3,000 feet, spikes, spikes, spikes!
COMPANY: Not much until Kinsman Ridge, where many arrived via the (apparently easier) Mount Kinsman Trail. By afternoon and the return leg, and particularly at and beyond Lonesome Lake, plenty of folk were out.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

GPS TRACK:

Bondcliff and Back

FRIDAY: Tributary of North Branch Gale River

This outing—now seven weeks ago—was a backpacking trip without a tent, or possibly a series of day-hikes that demanded a backpack. Either way, Bondcliff (4,265 feet) had been in my sights for a year or so. It is a remote summit, for the likes of me either a long summer’s day-hike or a trek with an overnight stop. Either would be justified by “views unequalled in the White Mountains”. Soon after returning from an August/September visit to the Whites, I made plans to go back mid-October to tackle Bondcliff via Galehead Hut. I will have to go back again, not for Bondcliff, but for those views.

DATES: Friday, October 15th to Sunday, October 17th.
START & FINISH: Gale River Trailhead, Bethlehem, NH (GPS 44.232582, -71.610592).
ROUTE:
FRIDAY: Gale River Trail to Appalachian Trail (AT) to Galehead Hut (plus evening side-trip up Galehead Mountain).
SATURDAY: AT to Bondcliff Trail to Bondcliff; return to Galehead Hut by same route.
SUNDAY: AT to Gale River Trail to finish.
DISTANCE: A little under 21 miles (5.6+10.6+4.6).
TIME: Maybe 16 hours total on the trail, of which 9½ were on Saturday (7:30am to 5:00pm).
TERRAIN: Well, this was the White Mountains. While there were one or two relatively easy sections (the AT from South Twin Mountain to Mount Guyot comes to mind), the trails were mostly steep and/or rough underfoot. For mercifully short stretches, the trails were boulder field. As for steep, I noticed that the last stretch of the climb to Garfield Ridge on Friday afternoon taxed me much more (afternoon, bigger pack) than Saturday morning’s statistically harder ascent (1,150 feet in 0.8 miles) of South Twin, when I was fresh and carrying only a daypack.
MAP: Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) White Mountains Map 2.

WEATHER: Overcast pretty much from beginning to end; it rained only when I was sheltered in Galehead Hut; Saturday’s hike was entirely socked in; it was blow-me-down windy on South Twin on Saturday afternoon; temperatures were mild for the season.
WILDLIFE: Nothing that grabbed my attention.

ACCOMMODATION: I had stayed at AMC huts three times before. Twice, at Carter Notch, the stays had been late-season experiences of empty dorms and self-service kitchen use. I loved it. The other time, at Zealand Falls, had been a bit of a zoo. I was not sure what to expect at Galehead. On the one hand, it was the very end of the season; on the other, Galehead was in full-service mode even so. In the end, it was a bit of both. Friday, I was almost alone with the staff; Saturday, the place filled up, but everyone was so nice and considerate, it did not become stressful.
UPS: Just making it out to Bondcliff. Missing out on its famous views this time is great motivation to return.
DOWNS: Immersing a boot in a brook when a steppingstone wobbled on me (wet socks, damaged pride, but near the end).
KIT: I hiked to the hut and back with a full-size pack. One item inside that pack was another pack—smaller, lighter—for my Saturday excursion.
COMPANY: On the trails, Friday afternoon and Saturday morning were quiet; there were lots of folk to chat with on Saturday afternoon.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

GPS TRACKS:
Friday & Sunday

Saturday

Day Hike Notes – Old Speck Mountain

Trailside brook

On Monday, the first full day of my trip, I went up Blueberry Mountain. Since my route was almost the same as one I took last year (the 2nd hike described in Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness) I will not add another post about it now. Three differences this year though: I did the loop the other way around (counterclockwise), the rain did not hold off until I was finished, and I skipped the summit of Speckled Mountain.

There are three mountains and one pond in this part of Maine called Speckled or Speck. The subject of this post is Old Speck, at 4,170 feet Maine’s fourth highest peak and apparently speckled in appearance by virtue of the contrast between trees and bare rock when seen from a distance. I cannot say I noticed this. Old Speck lies 20 straight-line miles due north of Speckled, but 40 miles by car from my base in Evans Notch.

DATE: Tuesday, August 31st.
START & FINISH: Grafton Notch, North Oxford, Maine (trailhead parking at GPS 44.589823, -70.947237).
ROUTE: Old Speck Trail to Old Speck summit and back. Old Speck Trail, barring the final 0.3 miles to the summit, is also the Appalachian Trail.
DISTANCE: 7.6 miles roundtrip.
TIME: 7¼ hours (8:45am to 4:00pm).
TERRAIN: You might think that a climb of 2,720 feet pretty steadily achieved over 3.8 miles would not be too tough. But this was a strenuous trek, mainly on account of footing—rocks and roots, of course, but also short steep pitches, high or slanted ledges, and assorted other pace-slowers. Recent rain added slickness here and there.
MAP: Not really necessary for navigation. I used GPS to check my progress.

WEATHER: Sunny, high maybe about 70 (later in the afternoon at lower elevation).
WILDLIFE: Some wee birdies hopped and flitted on Old Speck’s summit.

BREAKFAST: Tailgate oatmeal at the trailhead.
LUNCH: Peanut butter on tortillas, plus other stuff, at the summit.
UPS: Nice weather and occasional big views; just being out.
DOWNS: I just could not make myself climb all the way up the ladder of the summit fire tower. I am fine with cliff edges and ladders leaning against walls, but there is something about ladders that seem to rise into thin air that unnerve me.
KIT: On their third use, I was still pleased with my new boots (Lowas after a long line of Salomons).
COMPANY: I chatted a couple of times with a very friendly young woman from Arizona who had flown in to join an AT thru-hiker friend for a few days. They rarely seemed to be together though. He told me this was because of her slower pace. He would lag behind, then catch up at his pace, then repeat. Her pace appeared quite adequate to me, so this seemed a little uncompromising on his part. But maybe I didn’t have the full picture.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

 GPS TRACK:

New England Mountains—Again

SUNDAY: Looking south from Evans Notch (Laughing Lion Trail)—Maine, left; New Hampshire, right.

Last year, in August, I spent a week in the mountains of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. This year, I did the same, with the minor difference that my week straddled August and September.

Unusually for me, there had been no hiking trips between these two visits to northern New England 53 weeks apart. There were a couple of long weekends in Vermont that each embraced a hike, but no full week away. This had less to do with COVID than with moving home—the long, time-consuming process of selling up, moving into temporary accommodation, then searching for, buying, and moving into a new place.

I moved into my new home on August 13th and, with all my stuff under one roof again, finally felt able to get away, even if my boxes remained accusingly un-emptied. I had not had time to plan a new, different trip either, so I returned to Cold River Campground by Evans Notch and figured I’d take it from there.

Just like last year, I will post about my hikes gradually, probably not finishing until Christmas once again. Here, for now, is a photograph for each hiking day (Friday and Saturday were not hiking days, unless you count Vermont’s Mount Philo). Unlike last year though, I already have another short trip planned 😉

Day Hike Notes – Mount Ellen, Vermont

Marjorie at Orvis Lookout (Colin busy with his camera, I think)

Mount Ellen is Vermont’s joint-third-highest summit, after Mount Mansfield and Killington Peak and tied (at 4,083 feet) with Camels Hump. I have climbed Mansfield and the Hump. Since Ellen is much nearer Burlington (always my destination in VT) than is Killington, it became, a while ago, an obvious next target.

My youngest is at college in Burlington, living up there year-round. Because of the pandemic, I hadn’t seen her this year, so I knew for sure where my first all-vaccinated-up trip would take me. I became officially vaccinated up on May 28th and did not wait long before heading up I-91. The good news is that Marjorie and boyfriend Colin are outdoors people, so I could be social and climb Mount Ellen at the same time! This was a hike that was really all about the company.

DATE: Saturday, June 5th.
START & FINISH: Jim Dwire Road, Starksboro VT (trailhead at GPS 44.176893, -72.968547).
ROUTE: Jerusalem Trail to ridgeline, then Long Trail south to Mount Ellen; return by same route. On the way up, we took a break at Orvis Lookout, a short distance north on the Long Trail from its junction with the Jerusalem Trail.
DISTANCE: 8 miles roundtrip.
TIME: 5¾ hours (7:30am to 1:15pm).
TERRAIN: Well, a 2,400’ climb but it was a steady one on pretty good trails.
MAP: Just the Gaia GPS app.

WEATHER: Sunny, warm (climbing to about 80 by finish), occasional welcome breeze.
WILDLIFE: Colin was good at spotting—and photographing—salamanders, mostly orange Eastern newts, I think.

BREAKFAST: For me, a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter and a croissant before driving to the trailhead, plus coffee by Marjorie in the car.
LUNCH: We snacked sitting on a chairlift structure on the summit—tortilla with peanut butter and an apple for me.
UPS: Having fun with Marjorie and Colin.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I anticipated needing loads of water and set out with 4 liters (which weighs 9 pounds). The day turned out to be not as thirst-inducing as I had expected so I ended up carrying around a lot of excess H2O.
COMPANY: Apart from Marjorie and Colin, a number of other hikers who never became too many.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

GPS TRACK:

Day Hike Notes – Mattabesett Trail Again

Cliff in Cockaponset State Forest

Five years ago, my eldest and I hiked a substantial portion of the Mattabesett Trail. We trekked in a generally southerly direction from Berlin to Guilford, mostly accomplished on three outings between July and September. But our project in 2016 was to reach Long Island Sound, so somewhere in the woods of Guilford we left the Mattabesett Trail. We went south and it made a sharp turn to the northeast, toward the Connecticut River.

Last weekend, I set foot on the Mattabesett Trail again, starting at the Connecticut River. I walked 4.8 miles on the Trail before turning around. Another 22½ miles would have taken me back to that trail junction in the Guilford woods. I may gradually walk those miles this summer.

DATE: Saturday, May 1st.
START & FINISH: Mattabesett Trail eastern (Connecticut River) trailhead, Middletown CT (GPS 41.554067, -72.582254).
ROUTE: Out—Mattabesett Trail to Brooks Road; back—Reservoir Loop Trail, Reservoir Road (a track), and Mattabesett.
DISTANCE: 9.4 miles according to my GPS.
TIME: 4¾ hours (7:45am to 12:30pm).
TERRAIN: Surprisingly rough in places. On the outward leg, beyond a feature called Rock Pile Cave, the Mattabesett was particularly prone to steep, twisting, bouldery sections for a mile or two. On the other hand, over the whole hike, elevations remained between 60 feet (start) and 530.
MAP: I carried the rather bulky CFPA Connecticut Walk Book for the relevant map (page 106), consulted only rarely.

WEATHER: Sunny, breezy, cool (40s at start, maybe upper 50s by finish).
WILDLIFE: Small turtles sunbathing beside their ponds.

BREAKFAST: I stopped at a deli that will remain nameless. The service was friendly but very slow. When, in my car, I unwrapped my bagel it was missing both swiss cheese and butter. I dreaded how long getting this corrected might take, so breakfast was a dry toasted bagel!
LUNCH: A cheese roll (camembert) sat on a boulder in the woods.
UPS: Watching the wind and sun create wavelet dances on the surface of Asylum Reservoir Number 2.
DOWNS: Finding garbage bags and weather-shredded tents abandoned beside an especially attractive portion of trail.
KIT: Bringing a third layer was a last-minute decision. With the stiff breeze and cool temperatures, it was a good—even necessary—one!
COMPANY: Almost none.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Day Hike Notes – MA AT: Jug End to the Housatonic

Shays’ Rebellion 1786-7

My most recent hikes, or at least those I thought it worthwhile to post about, have been on the New York Appalachian Trail. These outings took me to a point about halfway between the Hudson River and the New Jersey line. At one time or another, I have trodden the 130 or so miles north from that point to a spot ten AT miles inside Massachusetts from Connecticut. Last weekend, I decided to extend my AT coverage farther north rather than south. There were two main reasons for this: (1) I like the long, scenic drive up routes 7, 112, and 41 (a great opportunity to catch up on podcasts too); and (2) the next Massachusetts section was low-level and without steep gradients. We’d had some mild weather the preceding week, but I knew there’d be ice still in places where the sun don’t shine on higher and rougher sections of AT, and repeatedly putting on and taking off spikes is a pain.

DATE: Saturday, March 13th.
START & FINISH: Where the AT crosses Jug End Road, Egremont, MA (GPS 42.144443, -73.431467).
ROUTE: AT “north” (actually east) to Housatonic River bridge on Kellogg Road, Sheffield; retrace steps back to start.
DISTANCE: About 11 miles.
TIME: 5 hours (9am to 2pm).
TERRAIN: Fairly flat, with elevation always in the 650-900 feet range; dry trail, though with a few icy stretches; more than the usual frequency of bog bridges and boardwalk.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1509.

WEATHER: Sunny, cool (low 40s), and windy out of the woods.
WILDLIFE:

  • On the edge of some woods, I heard a small, out-of-place sound, maybe a stick crunching. I peered toward where it had come from and at first saw nothing, but then spied a dark coyote trotting off through the trees.
  • Not much later, I came to a small, half-frozen pond. It wasn’t very pretty and I wasn’t looking at it when I heard a splash. I assumed the splash was a dog taking a dip. I looked for the dog but instead saw a beaver swimming in the melted half of the pond. Whether in response to me or not, the beaver again slapped the water’s surface with its tail. I believe this is beaver for “buzz off!’ so it may indeed have been directed at me.

BREAKFAST: Coffee and bagel (with swiss cheese) from JP Gifford in Kent, consumed in the car and at the trailhead.
LUNCH: A cheese sandwich, standing in the woods somewhere.
UPS: See WILDLIFE
DOWNS: Not really a down but, depending on exposure to the wind or shelter from it, I was repeatedly too cold or too warm.
KIT: I carried spikes but the stretches of icy trail were never long enough to justify the effort of putting them on.
COMPANY: Most memorable was a Boy Scout group that I passed on both my out- and back-leg. As you might expect, they—boys and adult leaders—were amiable and observed COVID protocols.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

GPS TRACK:

Day Hike Notes – NY AT: Harriman State Park

SECOND HIKE: Looking up from inside the “Lemon Squeezer”

On New Year’s Eve, I set off Into Harriman State Park. This post describes two more New York Appalachian Trail outings that, almost, take me out of Harriman on its west side. They cover the nine miles or so of AT from William Brien Memorial shelter to, nearly, I-87. However, since they were solitary, out-and-back hikes, I walked more like 20 miles. Nobody, I think, would say that these sections are spectacular, but they are pleasant and, here and there, rugged. I intend to press on to New Jersey, now maybe three out-and-back day-hikes away, but the snow that is falling extravagantly across the region today may set me back a while.

DATES: Sundays, January 10th and 24th.
START & FINISH:
1/10 – Parking at Tiorati Circle, Seven Lakes Drive (GPS 41.275019, -74.088849).
1/24 – Elk Pen parking, Arden Valley Road just off Route 17 (GPS 41.264634, -74.154314).
ROUTE:
1/10 – Short stretch on Arden Valley Road to meet AT; AT north to William Brien Memorial shelter; AT south back to Arden Valley Road and on to Fingerboard shelter; blue-blazed trail down to Lake Tiorati; Seven Lakes Drive to return to Start.
1/24 – AT north to Fingerboard shelter; AT south to return.
DISTANCE AND TIME:
1/10 – 11.2 miles (5.2 one-way AT miles); 5¾ hours (8:30am to 2:15pm).
1/24 – 8.5 miles (3.9 one-way AT miles—I took a few short sidetracks, on purpose or by mistake); 5 hours (9:15am to 2:15pm).
TERRAIN: The usual ups and downs. The second hike felt harder, and not just because of gymnastics at the rock formation called the “Lemon Squeezer”. The going felt rubblier underfoot too, lots of awkward rocks and roots. According to my app, this short section (out and back) involved 2,000 feet of ascent.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Both days were sunny and cold. But the second hike was the sunnier and the colder (highs only in the 20s and a stiff wind).
WILDLIFE: Nothing that was exciting enough to remember now.

BREAKFAST: Bagel and coffee on the road, both times.
LUNCH: On the second hike, I sat down to eat in the lee of a boulder at the south end of Fingerboard Mountain, but soon realized it was still too cold and exposed a spot. I descended to a warmer place and ate standing up!
UPS: Second hike—sparse, airy oak forest on Island Pond Mountain, and the Pond itself.
DOWNS: Nothing significant, but see KIT.
KIT: I felt significantly cold for a while coming off windy Fingerboard Mountain and realized I did not have my layers right. I was wearing a thick fleece over three thinner layers. I could have added my rain jacket but feared generating condensation and becoming even colder. I’ve since bought a down jacket to help with these “dry cold” situations.
COMPANY: There were plenty of people out both days, especially by lunchtime.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

GPS TRACK:
Red = 1st hike, purple = 2nd

Day Hike Notes – NY AT: Into Harriman State Park

Silver Mine Lake

Back in September, I completed a long-drawn-out section-hike of the New York Appalachian Trail east of the Hudson River. West of the Hudson, I had already, several years ago, walked most of the Bear Mountain State Park AT. This hike picked up from that section and began what I suppose will be another long-drawn-out exercise to reach the New Jersey line. There are about 38 miles of NY AT west of the Hudson. I have now hiked 10 of them. Onward!

DATE: Thursday, December 31st.
START & FINISH: Hiker parking off Seven Lakes Drive on boundary of Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks (GPS 41.304177, -74.015841).
ROUTE: Short section of 1777W trail to meet Appalachian Trail, then AT “south” (actually, south then west) to William Brien Memorial shelter; return by same route.
DISTANCE: My GPS said 9.95 miles.
TIME: 6¼ hours (10:45am to 5pm).
TERRAIN: Two significant ups and one significant down (each 650-700 feet) on the out leg, reversed of course on the home leg. Some short tricky descents requiring caution, hands, big step-downs etc. Trail decently dry and almost ice-free.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Overcast, low 40s. Rather dreary.
WILDLIFE: A hawk and a (probably old) bear warning (see photos).

BREAKFAST: At home.
LUNCH: Cheese sandwich and nuts at William Brien Memorial shelter.
UPS: Seeing the Manhattan skyline far in the distance from Black Mountain.
DOWNS: None really.
KIT: I started off in a wooly hat, quickly switched to a cap, and switched back again with a mile or so to go.
COMPANY: As I was nearing William Brien Memorial shelter from the north, I saw the back of a hiker heading away from it toward the south. That was the extent of my company for the day.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

GPS TRACK: