April showers might bring May flowers, but in New Hampshire’s White Mountains they bring high spirits and muddy calves to the region’s trail runners. Affectionately referred to as “Mud Season”, this glorious time of year treats you to a beautiful range of pearly white snow, speckled granite, deep dark mud, heart warming green shoots, and a rainbow of buds and flowers. While you’re joyfully jumping in puddles and cruising down trails long concealed by snow it can be easy to overlook how fragile the trails are in this wet season. Fret not! There’s no need to forego your muddy stomping. By following a few simple guidelines you can minimize your impact on the trails and ensure they remain safe and enjoyable.
6 Tips for Smart Spring Trail Running
This year's UTMB has been a rather exciting event to watch. The startline of the UTMB was stacked with most of the greats, with a few notable absences. Coverage was solid this year with live video feeds of the start line and multiple aid stations on the official website, the race's official twitter and instagram, and constantly updated iRunFar coverage. The most exciting piece of media we got from the event is Journet's FB Live video covering the last few minutes on the start line before they were sent off. Chills. If only he had carried on filming as they started. That would have left me drooling.
UTMB Top Women:
1st - 25:46:42, Nuria Picas
2nd - 25:49:18, Andrea Huser
3rd - 26:39:03, Christelle Bard
4th - 26:28:30, Kaori Niwa
5th - 27:13:20, Alissa St Laurent
6th - 27:19:55, Kellie Emmerson
7th - 25:42:11, Anna-Marie Watson
8th - 26:06:33, Amy Sproston
9th - 26:14:28, Maria Nikolova
10th - 26:44:08, Robyn Bruins
UTMB Top Men:
1st - 19:01:32, Francois D'haene
2nd - 19:16:38, Kilian Jornet Burgada
3rd - 19:53:00, Tim Tollefson,
4th - 20:03:14, Xavier Thevenard
5th - 20:11:38, Jim Walmsley
6th - 20:12:43, Pau Capell
7th - 20:19:48, Dylan Bowman
8th - 21:24:19, Gediminas Grinius
9th - 21:28:32, Zach Miller
10th - 21:44:31, Jordi Gamito
Check out the results for the other races in the UTMB series, CCC, OCC, TDS, the ridiculously cool PTL, the YCC, and the YRun. These event's receive the level of attention that the UTMB does, but take a look over the course previews and you'll realize that these are equally exciting. These are all found on UTMB's homepage.
I look forward to hearing some tantalizing tales of the race in iRunFar's post-race interviews and recaps.
I've worked long and hard over these past months to bring a trail race to the Belknap Range trails in Gilford, NH. Unfortunately, due to a number of roadblocks we've run into while planning the race we've come to the point where we have to cancel the Gunstock Spring Trail Fling. We've worked through the roadblocks up to this point. We were three days away from running the race at one point! So close! Thank you to those of you who signed up and got excited for a great day on the trails along with us. As you can imagine, I'm very disappointed in having to put off the first trail race Fresh Tracks was to put on. Though, this speed bump sets me off with renewed excitement and more time to focus on another event for the New England trail community on the amazing trails in our back yard. If you were signed up for the race, please check your email and you should see a message with more details regarding the cancellation.
Eventhough we couldn't put on a race on these trails this time, I strongly encourage you to get out and enjoy the trails in the Belknap Range this summer. The range has a number of major and minor peaks, 68 miles of trails, is only 1.5 hrs from Boston and 45 minutes from Concord, and has a number of satisfying post trail bars and restaurants in nearby Laconia. This is a great spot to escape for a Saturday trail adventure or even a summer weekday evening trail run. Click here to check out the Belknap Range trails!
Get out there, enjoy the trails, enjoy the food in Laconia, and most importantly make sure to thank the Belknap Range Trail Tenders (BRATTS) for maintaining these trails. The BRATTS are among a number of trail maintenance groups across the North East that keep the trails we love in good working order. The Spring Fling was organized to bring attention to and support the vital work that BRATTS does for us trail lovers. Follow them on Facebook to keep up with their trail antics. If you enjoy the Belknap Range trails, you should consider supporting BRATTS and the trails by joining their work trips or adopting a trail segment to maintain. Click here to learn more about the BRATTS and how you can support the Belknap Range trails.
In the coming months I'll be sharing more about some exciting summer adventures I have planned in the North East and some further afield. The White Face Sky Race, a few longer distance adventures in the whites (Pemi, Presis, Hut to Hut), surfing and trail adventures in Hawaii, and a bit of exploring in Bend, Oregon, and more! And of course, a new race! It's going to be a busy, exciting, fun summer full of new adventures. I feel like I've used "adventure" 1 too many times here. Oh well, adventure is awesome. Onwards!
Dear Fresh Tracks Community,
Due to unforeseen circumstances, Fresh Tracks is postponing the Gunstock Spring Trail Fling to a later date. We apologize for this rather unfortunate news. We are working quickly to reschedule the race for a later date. Once decided, we’ll share the new race date here and by email with all registered participants. If you are registered, you should have received an email with additional details about the postponement. No race details other than the date will change, same venue, same course. Keep your eye’s peeled for the new date and keep working hard out there on the trails! We look forward to having you join us soon for an awesome day on beautiful trails with new trail friends.
Fresh Tracks Racing
Here's a little taste of the course we'll be running next Saturday, the 27th of May.
If you haven't gotten to it yet, there's still time to sign up for the Spring Trail Fling. Click here to visit the RunReg registration page for the event and sign up now.
For those of you already signed up, keep an eye out for a pre-race email with all the details you'll need for race day.
Spring running in New England, some see it as a battle with the unruly forces of nature, stomping through mud, churning through slush, crunching through snow, slipping over ice. Those enlightened runners among us see it for what it is, a chance to play in the mud and see the world coming alive with electric green leaves, humble buds, chattering birds, and giddy critters. Spring running has it's challenges, of course. Those first few runs in the spring slush might take some getting used to. After accepting soaked feet and slippery footing, it makes for some of the most fun you can have on New England trails.
We caught up with four New England trail runners who shared their favorite trails, upcoming spring races, fashion strategies, and music (and audiobook) recommendations. Read on and get ready for some epic Spring running!
WARNING: this article is definitely SFW, but we cannot be held liable for the time you'll spend looking through trail porn after reading this >>> www.trailporn.com. Your welcome.
What is your favorite North East Spring trail running destination, or one on your bucket list?
In terms of a destination, it's always great to get back to the Whites after winter. We just don't have mountains like that around Boston and it feels wild and remote. Mud season in central Vermont is always a good time too - I've been on some trails where there is more moose poop/square foot than plants or dirt, and, again, it gives you that sense of being in someplace wild. In other ways, it doesn't matter that much, because as the green starts to pop up all around New England, it's exciting! In fact, there is one ~50 yard stretch of the Western Greenway, a trail that arches around Belmont and Waltham outside of Boston, that, for a couple weeks in the spring is my favorite bit of trail, any where. For this short little stretch you are simply immersed into a vibrant world of the brightest green, it is truly amazing. So I guess a favorite destination for North East spring trail running is simply the one where I happen to be at the moment!
My favorite North East trails are right in my backyard, right outside of Boston, but this Spring I hope to get up to the White Mountains more and am planning a trip to Vermont to explore some new territory. Doing a Pemi-loop at some point this Spring or Summer is on my bucket list for sure. I'm also excited about racing in some NE trail running destinations that I've never been to this Spring.
It depends on conditions. Often, the Whites are too muddy or snowy early on. Luckily, I live in close proximity to the Belknap, Ossipee, and Sandwich ranges. Those smaller ranges generally dry out sooner, and are my go-to for Spring.
During Spring, the best trail miles are to found on the Tuckerman Ravine trail. Strap on the spikes and treat yourself to a never-ending parade of less-than-sober corn snow enthusiasts and spectators. Stay away from crevasses and ice-fall.
What shoe are you running in this Spring? What other gear do you consider essential for Spring?
Last year I discovered the Salomon Sense Ultra SG. Crazy, crazy expensive, but, as my first pair probably has close to 2,000 miles on them and still feel pretty darned good, I realized they are a great value. I just started in on my second pair recently - they're especially good for muddy conditions. A good rain jacket until we get closer to summer. I use a model from Inov-8 that is light and seems to keep me pretty dry on those misty/drizzly days. Other than that, it's just a matter of going! I feel much more confident wearing a hydration pack/vest when I'm running long as the weather warms too. Again, I've got the Inov-8 Race vest (an older model I think), which let's me go for around 4-6 hours and not have to worry at all about getting thirsty.
I have recently started wearing Altras since I needed a more supportive shoe for the type of training I've been doing. I'm really liking the Altra Superior 3.0 on the trails and the Altra Escalantes on the road. I'm a fairly minimal runner as far as gear goes, but as temps increase, carrying water becomes essential. Most times I just use an Ultimate Direction handheld I've had for awhile now, but I also love the Ultimate Direction T.O. Race Vest 3.0. It's super lightweight and carries two bottles in the front, plus some nutrition and a rain jacket in the back, so it's perfect for racing and long training runs. for even longer treks, I have the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20. I'm excited to test that one this Spring.
I am not a "shoe guy". I'm not interested in EVA foam, drops, different types of traction, or rockplates. I did the Peak 500 in $13 Wal Mart shoes. I buy shoes only when my others are completely disintegrated. I buy in bulk Skechers Go Runs from the Tanger Outlets, because they are cheap. I also like the type of rubber they use on their outsoles. It's sticky.
My Spring footwear is the New Balance Hierro, because it's inexpensive, soft and maybe won't fall apart too fast. If money grew on trees I'd have the Salomon Snowcross; they make me feel invincible. But the one truly clutch piece of Spring running equipment is a good crisp Pale Ale.
Do you do any special preparation to transition from Winter to Spring running?
I keep running throughout the winter, so there's no special prep I do in general. The biggest thing is deciding when to transition from full-tights to my (incredibly sexy) man-pri 3/4 tights to just wearing shorts (I haven't gone full monty yet . . .).
As excited as I am about breaking out the shorts and tanks, the transition to warmer temps is always hard for me. Having to carry and drink more water is hard to get used to at first, but one thing I make sure to do is drink more water throughout the day so I'm not feeling super dehydrated when I run, and also making sure I drink some sort of electrolyte during or after my run.
Nothing official or major. It really depends on the conditions. Traction, or no traction? That's about it.
To prep for Spring running, I just keep my feet perpetually wet and filthy to simulate mud season conditions. Have an arsenal of pre-soaked socks to wear to work.
What races and running goals do you have on your calendar this Spring?
After being pretty competitive a few years ago I had a "simple" knee surgery that led to a disastrous and prolonged recovery. I'm 100% healed now, but that experience taught me a lot of lessons about myself and my relationship with running. Therefore, I don't race any more (although I am thinking about running TARC's Don't Run Boston again this year, but that doesn't really qualify as a race!), but I still train and have built up a solid base of fitness. I'm much happier with my running now than I was a few years ago, and, with my fitness, have the idea of exploring more of the trails of western Massachusetts, and trying to spend a lot more time in the Whites. I have a couple of projects on the Long Trail in Vermont I want to work on (running from Mansfield to Sugarbush, about 50 miles), and I've dreamt of running the Cohos Trail in New Hampshire (175 miles from Crawford Notch to the Canadian border) in a single push since I first heard of the trail a few years ago. Reckon it's time to stop dreaming and start running!
My big goal this Spring is completing my first 50 miler at Cayuga Trails 50, but I am also guiding at the Boston Marathon, running the TARC Wapak 21.5-miler, and running the Pineland Farms Carnicross 5k with my one-year old puppy.
I had planned on doing the Northeast USATF Mountain Running Series. I am sure I will jump into some random ultras. I am also planning some FKT Attempts in the Whites.
I'm looking forward to toeing the line at the inaugural Riverlands 100 if the body allows.
What music have you been rocking out to recently?
I actually don't listen to music any more when I run. Because I want to try to become a bit more knowledgable and pretend I'm smart, I've actually started listening to audiobooks whilst driving and running on the treadmill (I own a treadmill, and, honestly don't mind it too much - especially when the trails are tough to traverse because of deep snow (I've hurt myself running through that stuff too much). I'm able to do some pretty stout hill climbs on it, and every so often will prop the back up and get some very long downhill sessions in). So, in terms of books, I just finished listening to Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (at 15+ hours, it's not too brief and definitely helped pass some miles on the treadmill and really made my time in the car much more bearable!) and am currently listening to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I'm a teacher, and I'm actually planning on using both books - Brave New World in connection to a unit I'm going to be starting about the Barkley's Marathons and the role of suffering in our culture/society. It's been pretty cool to see a connection between running and the world created by Huxley. Makes me appreciate those long miles so much more!
I don’t listen to music when I run, but the last race I ran, the TARC To Hale & Back 6-Hour , I had a song from the youngest I nanny's music class stuck in my head. Really wasn't a terrible beat to run to!
When I'm running, it's Hed PE, Tech N9ne, Dirty Wormz, and any weird, hard rap.
Doomtree, P.O.S and Sims keep me thoughtful on the run. Lamb of God keeps me angry and moving forward.
Who are these trail nuts?
After a "simple" knee surgery derailed his competitive ultra career, Josh Katzman hasn't raced much since the end of 2013. Now able to run and train in a much healthier approach, he gets most of his miles in on the trails around Boston. Since his competitive career is over, he has found a great running buddy in his dog, and as a coach for his son's soccer team. His two sons plan on teaching him how to do a back flip on their trampoline in 2017, assuredly derailing his running for another two-three years. As a teacher in the Boston Public Schools for the past ten years, Josh has recently worked with the district to open an outdoor-based semester program starting next year. He always knew he'd get paid to run the trails...
Vegan, Nutrition-Enthusiast, Trailbunny, Ultrarunner, Mediocre Weight-Lifter, Future CPT, Nanny, Wife and Mom of an Adventurous Trailpup.
Rob Rives is a Carolina-bred, New England-rooted, Californicated mountain enthusiast who always prefers the steeper route. He holds the FKT for the 170-mile Cohos Trail, invented the Swan Song Loop in the Presidential Range, and is a member of the Winter 4000-footer club. His true self is always revealed at mile 100: a gluttonous, delirious ball of pain and joy.
Kale Poland Facts: Kale Poland can build a snowman out of rain.
Kale Poland counted to infinity. Twice.
Kale Poland has a diary. It's called the Guinness Book of World Records.
Tripoli Rd. - Groomed XC ski trail till Osceola trailhead, dense snowpack with a light dusting
Tripoli Rd, Osceola trailhead to Tecumseh trailhead - large but passable downed tree branch in road, slick ice underneath an inch of loose snow, microspikes recommended
Mt. Tecumseh Trail from Tripoli Rd. - thin ice on water crossings near trailhead, icy patches on steep sections near summit, didn't need snowshoes, could have used microspikes
Mt. Tecumseh Trail down to WVV resort parking - inch of light snow on top of slick snow/icepack, luge like in places.
It had been a few weeks since I had gotten out into the mountains, owing to a 2 week struggle with a stomach bug and a week of travel down to VA. I was looking forward to getting out with a friend to camp Monday night, buuuuut she bailed on me. I have a hunch it was retribution for me bailing on her a few weeks ago. We're even now, I think. So, late Monday afternoon I decided to pack up and drive a short distance to Waterville Valley where I hiked a mile down Tripoli Rd. to the Osceola Vista Campground. I popped up my tent around around 7:30 and hunkered down with a book for the evening. Around midnight I woke to the beautiful noise of heavy snow coming down on the tent's rain fly. Rain makes such a beautiful noise, but the slow and soft sound of the falling snow is dream-like, especially when you wake from a dream to hear it.
After a nice rest in the mid 20s I woke to a light dusting of snow and slowly worked my way towards breaking camp. Breaking down a tent in the early morning in winter is not fun. With my belly and thermos full of hot coffee I broke camp and started down Tripoli Rd. I dropped my bag in the woods near the campgrounds and headed down Tripoli Rd at a trot towards the Mt. Tecumseh Trail trailhead, about 4 miles away. A large chunk of Tripoli Rd. is closed off during the winter season and groomed for XC skiing, making for nice running conditions. At the Mt. Osceola trail trailhead the grooming ends and the road changed to a slick base with a light dusting of snow, which made for some fun running and sliding down the slight grade.
I underestimated the distance at this point and couldn't remember what the Tecumseh trailhead looked like, so I ended up running 4/5 of the way to the trailhead before turning around at the Beaver Pond spur (I thought I had missed the trailhead). I made it back to the Osceola trailhead where I checked the map on the board and realized I had stopped just short of the trailhead! Left the Osceola trail head, ran back down the ice luge, and finally found the Mt. Tecumseh Trail trailhead, only after I wandered down a few spurs off Tripoli Rd. Ah! That's what I get for not taking my map with me. I believe that added 3 miles or so to the trip. They were nice miles, I won't complain.
Once I hit Mt. Tecumseh Trail I slowed to a comfortable hiking pace. The forest was silent, no wind, comfortably cool, a pleasant overcast day. From time to time I heard a truck's air-breaks off on 93 (unfortunately). The wind picked up a bit and I enjoyed the sounds of it whistling over the tops of the bare trees, their branches clicking together, dry leaves clinging on and rattling, strands of birch bark jingling. Gorgeous. On a few steep sections of the trail it became very icy, no more than 10ft at a time. I chose not to carry my microspikes with me, so at these points I pulled myself up along the trees on the side of the trail. These weren't too challenging to get around. The snow deepened a bit once I crested the first peak and there were 2 or 3 small blowdowns on the trail that sent me a few feet into deeper snow to get around.
At the summit the clouds had closed off views of the Tripyramids and Sandwich Dome. On a clear day, this view is spectacular. It was no less spectacular with a vast wall of clouds, just no mountain peaks to peek at. The descent down from Tecumseh to the WVV Resort parking lot is a blast. It's a nice snaking gradual grade most of the way down with a few steep spots. On this day, it was a bit icy underneath the thin top layer of snow so I enjoyed some sliding and picked my way down "carefully" at a good clip. It required a bit of ballet and bouncing off trees to keep from laying out or shooting off into the woods.
I popped out at the parking lot and jogged about 3 miles back down Tripoli Rd. to pick up my bag and headed back to my car. I made it to my car just as it was starting to drizzle. With temps hovering right around 32 it was a good thing I made it back when I did. Shortly after, the roads back to my place were covered in a slick sheen of ice. I was really excited to get back and drink some water, I had only taken my thermos of coffee out on the trail with me and got prrrrretty darn thirst right around the summit. That next sip of water was ahhhhh heaven. Great day all around out there on Tecumseh, but I am really starting to look forward to the spring melt and some warm sunshine on my face.
Here's the Strava track from the hike:
I'm down in New Orleans for the weekend, visiting my friend Jocelyn and enjoying some of the exciting parade season. Since our beautiful dirt trails are all snowed in up in New Hampshire I absolutely had to take the chance to hit some trails while I was down here. A quick search of local trails turned up the Bonnet Carre Spillway trails. This is a ~5mi loop of MTB trails taken care of by NOMAMBO (The New Orleans Metro Area Mountain Bike Organization). Just 30 minutes from the city, this is a sweet gem that is home to the Spillway Classic Trail Run hosted by the New Orleans Track Club.
The trail starts out from a boat launch and recreation area with ample parking. There's no map at the trail head, just a board with warnings and trail rules, but there's no reason to fret since the trail is an easy to follow out and back loop right along the spillway. When I'm running on MTB trails I prefer to run counter to the regular flow so I can see the bikers coming down the trail. This might tick off the bikers, but it ends up being safer for everyone
These are some absolutely beautiful trails. Nice and flowy with no elevation gain other than slight mounds, short steps, and some bike bridges. The trails are well broken in and it looks like NOMAMBO takes good care of them, only one instance where the trail was blocked by branches. The trail is clear single track lined with thin trees and attractive undergrowth, at times making for a beautiful green carpet spread along the trail.
After taking it slow this winter in NH, just enjoying time on the trail, running this trail was a blast. The colors, the flat trail, the warmth and humidity, it was exactly what I needed. Though there was a light rain it only made for some fun mud puddle stomping. All together this was an awesome little set of trials. There must be more gems like this hidden around these parts. I'll have to do some more exploring!
I set out on this walk after a pleasant morning at church and a filling brunch of pancakes, home fries, and strong coffee. This was my first time attending a service at the church and I was left with a comfort and motivation that community often gives you. Welch and Dickey peaks are a 10 minute drive from my dad's, where I'm staying at the moment, a gem right in my backyard. The trail was hard packed for the entire 4 miles and icy only in spots, my microspikes were more than enough for traction. No need for snow shoes today. Setting out I ran into a couple coming down from the Welch ledge, only 1 mile up the trail, but they looked like they were packed for a week in the wilderness. I'm glad to see people take the dangers of winter hiking seriously. I choose however to pack light and comfortably and be prepared to manage any issues that may arise. On this short walk, there is a very slim chance that I would need anything I wasn't carrying. The beginning of the trail presented plenty of beautiful pictures of the resting forests and relatively raging stream. I found a 30ft slide that a few others had enjoyed down a few short drops and threw myself down it feet first. At the bottom of the slide I continued down to the stream where I wandered for the next hour. Ice sculptures crowded the short drops in the river where the water throws it self into mounding micro-pillars of ice with rolling walls buffed smooth by the warm air. These were beautiful from a distance, but as I continued to wander up stream and look closer at these forms I noticed the mesmerizing patterns playing out inside these icy windows created by the water passing behind them. Some showed rapid flashes, others shared slow expanding rings of blue and white, and a few seemed to simply vibrate with light. A moving kaleidoscope of river colors. Becoming further captivated by these patterns I begin to notice a faint break in the colors along the edges of these flashes, rings, and ripples. The colors peel out into a slight rainbow and as I slowly move my head I find the ice projecting the captured light into patterns as beautiful as any stained glass window I've seen. Moving my head every so slightly these patterns transform shape and color and I realize there is infinite enjoyment to be found laying on the ice by this stream and staring into the ice encased light. There's no point in trying to capture these views. I imagine that the only way to see this spectacle is to lay yourself on the ice until your mind settles into the simple beauty. I don't even try to capture the moment on camera and instead selfishly choose to keep this moment to myself, at least the visuals.
After what feels like an eternity of enjoyment I set back out on the trail and quickly make it to the Welch ledge over looking the road to Waterville Valley. A cold breeze had swept up the slope as I lay staring into the ice and I decided to push ahead to finish the hike up and over Welch and Dickey. Across the valley I pick out Jenning's Peak, Sandwich Dome, and Black Peak. The Tripyramids are obscured by clouds, but my imagination reveals the three peaks and their snow covered rock slides. Climbing up the snow covered open rock faces to Welch I reach the peak quickly and look out over an array of artwork spread across the sky. Tendrils of snow and fog are reaching down from the clouds to the south, sweeping their way towards me. Across the valley beyond Jennings and Sandwich, peaks peek out of the haze beyond Squam. To the north I see Green peak and the fain outline of south Tri blanketed in snowy clouds. The western sunset is blocked out by thick cloud cover, but the colors reach around this front to reveal a soft peach to the south and east under the blanket of dark clouds. To the West I look across the saddle to Dickey, where I continue my hike. A quick down and up to Dickey where I'm graced by a light and windy snow squall coming in from the west. The snow is fine and develops into fat fluffy flakes as I descend. I take my time to catch a few fresh snow flowers in bloom in my fleece gloves trying to catch a glimpse of the rumored beautiful crystal patterns they hold. Slowly the air clears and a screaming red sunset breaks through a crack in clouds just above what is likely the Kinsman ridge. I stop and hide behind a thick spruce on the open rock to take it in. The raging colors warm me through the quickly dropping temperature. Continuing on I find a wall of ice along the trail that I imagine would have glowed with the colors of the sunset only shortly before I had passed by. The light dims, I keep my headlamp in my bag and let gravity carry me flying as much as I can in my boots down the trail and back to my car. At the final trail junction only a hundred yards from the parking area I notice the trail sign points to Tripoli Road 8 miles up the trail to the right. I didn't know that I could make it all the way to Tripoli Rd from here. This opens a whole new world of long runs out of this lot into the Osceolas, Tris, and beyond. Oh the places I could go along this trail!
I woke up a little later than I had planned this morning, just in time though to jump on a morning affirmation call with some motivated and supportive fellows. Looking over the map, which I should have done the night before, I plotted 2 possible routes. The first, an 8 mile trek up Mt. Lafayette on the Old Bridal Path, over to Mt. Lincoln along the Franconia Ridge Trail, and down to the parking lot along the Falling Waters Trail. The second, which I really had my eye on continued along the Franconia Ridge Trail to Mt. Liberty and down the Liberty Springs Trail. to another parking lot where I would follow the Franconia Notch Recreational Trail back to the car at the bottom of the Old Bridal Path. This second option was 13 miles. I wouldn't have to choose which to take until I made it to the intersection of the Falling Waters Trail and the Franconia Ridge Trail. Finishing my coffee and slices of toast loaded with peanut butter I pocketed the map and packed my bag. Snow shoes in case of the deeper stuff, first aid kit, lighter and dryer lint for a fire to either raise the spirits or as a last resort for survival, wind breaker, gloves, cliff bar, and down jacket. No compass and luckily I did not need one on this trip. I set out a bit after 8 on my drive to the Notch and arrived in 20 minutes. Threw on my micro spikes and set off. There was one other car in the lot when I arrived and it was still there when I returned, but I didn't see anyone out on the trail. I did see some fresh tracks up on the ridge that looked like they were from today, but I can't be sure how far I was behind them or where they had gone. I lost their tracks shortly after Mt. Lincoln.
Starting out up the Old Bridal Path I was thinking about my goals for the day. Firstly I intended to remain conscious of my pace, exertion, and attention in order to take my time and enjoy the hike. It has been typical of me in past years to rush along a trail with a destination in mind or that destination being a strong effort. That mode tends to focus me on the exertion and does not allow me to take in the full beauty and peace of the trail. There is always more to see on the trail, the extent of what you see only depends on how much you want to see. I'm not denouncing trail running or fast-packing. This is a personal effort to understand the experience of taking it slow and exploring what the trails have to offer in all aspects. Secondly, I set out to contemplate relationship goals, the results of which I'll be keeping to myself for now.
At the split between the OBP and the FWT I stopped to admire the ice formations and water song underneath the narrow bridge. Small cascades no more than a foot high were spraying water into beautiful mounded ice sculptures more beautiful than anything I've seen made by Man's hand. The plops and trickling sound of icy water set my mind at ease, though I was too busy trying to capture this on my camera to really allow my heart to settle into the song. reluctantly leaving here I continued on the OBP. A short level walk through birch, maple, and oak forest took me into the belt of pines that reached up to the treeline. The trails steepens here and this forced me to slow and draw in. The exertion and my pumping breath took over my senses and I found myself catching moments where I would snap back into the presence of the scent of spruce, bristly sound of the wind whipping the trees, and the crisp air against the back of my throat. I was still caught up in capturing the moment on camera, but I'm convinced there's no way to fully capture the heart warming essence of these moments. Since these moments I've found myself realizing more easily how futile that attempted capture is. I will selfishly enjoy these beautiful moments all on my own. There's some additional excitement found in the rebelliousness of not sharing these beautiful moments when that seems to be an expectation these days. I continued, finding moments where a light jingle of icicles and snow laden branches brought me into the present. Stopping to admire this music and it's source I'd find even more beautiful sounds and scenes catching my attention. In one of these moments I ended up staring at a strand of birch bark dancing in the wind to it's own music. It is perfectly content and without judgment and I jealously admire it's aliveness. Boulders are scattered along the trail, some split, some stacked and all coming from somewhere long ago to rest in this spot at this moment, just a nanosecond in their extensive understanding of time. Faster growing things have colonized these boulders ranging from flaky lichen to grown trees seeming to drip over these rock faces. Everything is fluid on it's own timeline. I continue hiking up this trail and catch myself in rolling trains of thought in need of reminding myself that I am right here, right now. I'm thinking about relationships, organizing races, recent frustrations with work, new ideas, old ideas, snow balls and monkey wrenches. These ideas slow to a trickle and again I'm treated to a present full enjoyment of the trail in front of me and the world around me. Green Leaf Hut, which is closed for the winter, provides a very photogenic snow dusted and deserted subject. Dwarf pine forest stretches from here up to treeline where the fun begins. I pick out a sequence of cairns easily until the clouds blow in close enough that it takes some time to be certain I can see the next cairn. Nearing the top I lose the path and break straight to the summit easily finding it and the directional signs. The views on the way up were breathtaking and humbling. These gave me plenty of time to slow and appreciate moments of beauty. I could easily pick out Cannon Cliffs, the ridge I had hiked up to Green Leaf, Cannon ski hills, Lonesome Lake, and the Kinsman ridge. In the distance I think I see Moosilauke.
I rather quickly pick out the path from Lafayette to Lincoln and head down this giving little thought to enjoying the moment. It was certainly enjoyable, but the primary focus was on finding the trail and not face planting into rocks below the shallow snow. I hit a number of humps along the saddle, at each announcing to myself and whoever else would like to hear me that I have reached Lincoln! It is a while before I make it to Lincoln's summit. There I find a nice perch to watch clouds role into the saddle and over Lafayette. I sit for maybe 10 minutes and drink it in. At one point along the saddle I passed a beautiful rock face, about 20 feet high, checkered with weather worn crevices. As I sat down to look at it i was hit by a sustained gust of wind, closed my eyes and sat in peace as it washed over me for a few minutes. It felt like ages, sitting there being tossed by the wind. If I could have I would have let go and drifted in eternity in that wind, it was that peaceful. It must have been the stark contrast of the internal peace and the external chaos that made the moment so beautiful. As I opened my eyes and looked into the wind I got a face full of ice crystals. I moved on and came to the split in the trails. Down the FWT would take me back to the car within 3 miles while straight ahead would take me to Mt. Liberty within 2 miles and then down to the Recreational trail along Franconia Notch for at least another 2 hours. Having plenty of day light left and conditions looking like they would clear as the day went on, I continued along the ridge towards Mt. Liberty.
The trail was abruptly crowded in by spruces and windblown snow. With only a few feet between the mess of branches and the top of the snow pack, I began slowly weaving my way through the puzzle. After a few hundred feet of postholing I finally strapped on my snowshoes and continued with slightly more ease. This section slowed me down to a pace that allowed me to drink in the forest of wind shattered pines, acrobatic birch trees frozen in time and stripped of their bark to smooth finish, and Spanish moss covered grizzlies, all beautiful and welcoming me into their home. I wove through this forest picking my way along the deep fresh powder. The clouds began to break over head and I was treated to some of the most striking blue sky I have ever seen. The sunlight lit up the snow into a sea of diamonds and painted it with the shadows of the arboreal residents. A steady enjoyed pace brought me to the intersection with the Liberty Springs trail where I continued up to Mt. Liberty. Counting my steps, I found that there were approximately 450 steps in 0.3mi, a handy way of measuring distance. I found a spot to sit and watch the scene and bundle up against the chill. Looking south east to Mt. Flume I see near at hand, dark grey clouds twisting in back bending somersaults over the ridge and down into the Pemi Valley. Across the way a blanket of clouds is slowly rising on the warm valley air to crest over Liberty and Lincoln, shrouding their peaks. Wisps of clouds appear from nothing, creeping up the slopes towards the peaks and they join the mass as the top. I can see Bond Cliff and it's neighbors clearly across the Pemi Valley. I begin to daydream about hiking the Pemi Loop, a 32 mile loop along the peaks that surround this portion of the Pemi Wilderness. What a wonderful trip that would be, plodding along for as long as it takes, stopping to absorb the magic along with hot coffee brewed over a camping stove. I can smell the instant coffee and it warms my heart. I nibble on a cliff bar as I sit. This may be meager compared to other lunches, but it seems to me a feast when I consider what I've read of Johnny Muir's travels with nothing more the breadcrumbs in his pocket. I'll find that strength some day.
Back down the way I came to the Liberty Springs trail. I stop briefly at the Liberty Springs Tent site to see if the spring is running and try to fill my water bottle. My bottle refilled with fresh mountain dew I mosey down to the rec trail, passing a few dear tracks along the way and stopping to investigate a few dead and downed trees. One of these looked to have been burned down with a dark charcoal crust around its base, a beautiful layer of moss covered part of this stump. The rec trail was not the most enjoyable part of this walk. Covered in mushy snow churned up by snow mobiles and left soft by warm valley temps, my heel would sink into the snow and the ball of my foot hold on top of the slush till it sunk and slipped back as I pushed off. I did everything I could to enjoy the walk despite this and my soaking boots. It was still beautiful with it's lattice work of trees and their branches lining the trail. I stopped by the "Basin" feature along this trail and watched and listen to the water dance along its path. The patterns drawn by the currents were mesmerizing. I must have sat for only 20 minutes, but it may just as well have been an eternity of enjoyment. I passed 2 snow mobilers, 2 XC skiers, and a well under-dressed man from south of Boston playing PokemonGo. I made it back to the car feeling at the same time not ready to end the beautiful day and a relief to be off the wet slush.
Altogether a beautiful day that allowed me the space I needed to explore my thoughts and feelings. I imagine I'll come back to this hike again for more introspection and enjoyment. Though I am enjoying this pace under these current circumstances, I do think I will have the urge to return for a all out run.