Smarts Brook Trail is a favorite hike of mine. It leads from a point 12 miles away from my dad's house, up to Sandwich Dome (3,986ft) and Jennings Peak (3,440ft) on an approximately 13 mile out and back. Earlier this day I had received some news about work that made me uneasy and I just felt the need to get out and search for positive thoughts. I knew we would be getting some weather and well aware that the sun would be going down soon. I was excited by these out of the ordinary conditions. What a spectacle it is to watch 100 foot tall trees dance in the wind and hear it rip through their branches. And at night, the senses are on edge and make for a whole new experience. Bundled up and with a collection of Edward Albee's stories and my journal in my backpack, I started out on Smarts Brook and collected some tinder along the way. In its first mile, the trail follows a swift section of a stream that gathers from higher up in the Sandwich range. I wandered down and spent a great deal of time picking along the icy bank and leaning over portholes through the ice into the clattering round rock water beneath it. The small drops of water along here built beautiful ice sculptures that I could trace the outlines of for hours. These little frozen sculptures, among the most beautiful I've seen, may be gone within days, they may grow and shrink striking different poses at the weather's whim. Their obvious mortality is beautiful.
I picked along the ice covered stream and its banks, sometimes falling in, making my way up stream. I jumped back onto the main trail and continued into the hills, slowly scanning the forest with eyes, ears, and heart trying to pick up on anything that might provide enjoyment. I followed the sound track of cackling leaves, chickadees, dribbling water in the distance, and dragging wind to the beaver pond that is one of the sources of Smarts Brook. I hopped across lily pads of ice and crossed the mounded dam to the opposite side of the outlet and followed the shore. Beavers are amazing creatures. Looking over the forest of chewed off stumps, I think how surprising the clean cuts are. That's a compliment to their amazing ability to strip these trees like butter and the scale at which they do this is quite impressive. With a single den at its center this beaver pond must be over 1000 sqm and the resulting wetlands an additional 25m along it's edge. These fellow animals are respectable builders, though they might pale in comparison to the abilities of our own species at least as size and durability go. Let's consider though that there home's are in a closer balance with natural order and allow for the continued growth and health of their supporting ecosystem. In that sense, which I would suggest is a good measure of building quality, there is absolutely no contest.
I moved along the shore and walked across the frozen pond to its center where the beaver den stood above the surface. It's quite a thing to stand on a pond looking over a beaver den when it's viewed from such a distance that your not quite sure it's real. I have proof now that they are real! Crossing the pond I picked through the channels crossing the wetlands and found my way back to the cut trail. Light began to fade at this point and I kept my light in my pack, letting my feet find the way forward with small, well planted strides. My attentiveness to noise grew making the noises seem to grow in intensity as the light receded and my vision took a back seat. At this point I was totally focused on not falling flat on my face and avoiding taking branches in the eye. My mind wandered little. I would break from this meditation and look up as the wind would rise and carry the trees into a dancing frenzy. Continuing on and pausing at times I crossed two streams and gradually slowed as my feet sank more often into the weak crust of snow. A blow down of 4 or more large trees blocked the path and I picked my way through the peaceful carnage of pine and maple to find the trail. At the third stream crossing I paused and decided this would be a good spot to sit, not feeling up to the commitment of summiting in these conditions and being content with my comfort. I plowed off of the trail a ways where a found a shelter of two rock faces. Here I dug into the snow and packed down the base to form a little nest of sorts where I built a small fire which didn't provide much warmth and sat down with Abbey's stories. Once the fire died down after an hour or so, I cleared up and made my way back down to the car, taking moments to get lost in the surrounding beauty, but mostly trying to avoid sinking into the soft pack along the narrow path of tracked out snow. I picked up a stick and tapped my way back on saplings, trees, and grasses along the trail. My heart warmed slightly and relief arose once I saw passing headlights near at hand. Though I enjoyed this little excursion for space and found what I was looking for, I was ready to end this long day with a warm meal. Altogether, I covered approximately 8mi at a little over 1mi/hr. That's a solid contemplation pace.
Like me, you might be feeling a bit blue about these less than perfect wintry New Engalnd conditions. Despite the warmer temps and precip, there's still great winter hiking to be had up here in the whites. Today I met up with an old college classmate, Justin to hike Mt. Hale (4054ft) via the Fire Warden's Trail.
The peak's namesake Edward Everett Hale, is an interesting Bostonian who earned this honor with his contributions to the 19th and early 20th century religious communities, fiction and non-fiction literature, and social reform/justice. He was an early pioneer in modern science fiction topics, writing about time travel and publishing the first known description of now ubiquitous artificial satellites in his story "The Brick Moon". We thank him for his contributions and this peak!
With the warm weather and rain we've had lately we expected soft snow and possibly icy trail conditions. We parked at the end of Little River Rd., hiked across the bridge, and headed up the "Herdpath" to the North Twin Trail trail head. Road access to this trail head is closed in the winter. We enjoyed the next ~mile of the hike with river music dancing on our right and continued on down the east side of the river. The trails got a little confusing here with tracks crossing the river at various points and others continuing on the east side of the river. Continuing on, Justin spotted the Fire Warden Trail , but it looked like someone had just wandered off trail for a bit so we kept going down North Twin. After another ~0.5mi we got the feeling we had missed it, since the map suggested the junction should be less than a mile from the trail head. Ready for an adventure, we strapped on our snowshoes and started breaking trail straight up to Hale from that point. The climb was definitely an adventure with some thigh deep snow, some sections of dense pine, and a few good scrambles, but manageable for the most part. Justin led most of the way since his snowshoes gave him better purchase in the soft snow than mine. There were some beautiful gnarly pines draped with Spanish moss along our bushwhack (it's actually neither Spanish nor moss, it's related to the pineapple!) and plenty of animal tracks likely pine marten and hare, maybe some small cats. We got some fat rain drops as the clouds moved near 3500ft. As we neared the summit we were caught in the saddle between Hale and an unnamed neighboring peak, but soon found our way onto Fire Warden and made it up to the summit. After a customary tap of the summit marker and a quick layer change we let our legs loose and bombed down Fire Warden and some ski tracks between the switchbacks. The down hill was a blast and it looked like the skiers had a great time breaking trail the day before. We made it down and back with a short 2mi jog along North Twin Trail and Herdpath. Overall a great adventure. I look forward to checking it out again in the summer.
Check out Justin's website, JCCrossCrountry for great trip write ups and his inspiring passion for the outdoors.
Justin got me thinking about my 2017 hiking and general outdoor goals. I have some ideas including a Pemi, hut traverse, and 48. I'm going to dig in and make some solid plans for this year and further down the line. You can expect to see those here soon.
Race update! I'm organizing an 8mi/5km race at Gunstock this Spring. I'm finalizing the date and wrapping up plans in the next week. Registration should be open by Jan. 30th. After working on other organizer's racers in a number of roles, I'm excited to be organizing this one from start to finish. Keep an eye out for an announcement on the Fresh Tracks Facebook page.
Gobble, gobble, gobble! Thanksgiving and "fun" times with family are right around the corner! That also means that we runners are trotting along on our turkey trots this week in hopes of catching that last breath of fall weather or easing our conscience while stuffing our faces this Thursday. It's OK, we're all in it together.
This past Saturday I made it down to the first, hopefully not the last, TARCkey Trot 5k and 6hr run just outside Boston. Running with these animals is always a good time. If you're in the New England and you haven't been to one of their races or group runs, you're missing out! Great people, great venues, great organization, and a whole lot of fun. Check out the Trail Animals Running Club website here and join the fun! Join their entertaining and active community on Facebook, here.
I can't imagine better weather for a mid-November race in New England. Sunny, high 40s F, beautiful. The race was based out of the barn (built in 18-something, 78?) at Wright-Locke Farm in Winchester, MA and ran through the farm's fields and Whipple Hill conservation area in neighboring Lexington. Trails were your typical fall clutter of leaves, beautiful, but definitely takes focus to not eat dirt. Beautiful single and some double track up and over rolling hills, total elevation gain of 376ft over the 5k loop course. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning. The most fantastic part about this race was the finish line and transition area (for the 6hr) at the entrance to the farm's barn, though there was a car accidentally parked just in front of the finish line as the 5k finishers came in. Still awesome. Congrats to all the runners that turned out and a big thank you to Josh Katzman, the TARC crew, and the volunteers for an awesome day!
Fresh Tracks Race Update: We're recruiting sponsors and finalizing the course for our first Fresh Tracks race of 2017! The 8mi and 5k trail runs will be held early Spring at Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford, NH. More deets to come soon! Stay tuned.
TARCkey Trot - Top Finishers
6hr (89 participants)
M1 Patrick Caron 37.2mi
M2 Sylvain Olier 34.1mi
M3 John Paul Lewicke 31mi
F1 Alexandra Brinket 31mi
F2 Justine Cohen 27.9mi
F3 Kara Spera 27.9mi
5k (40 participants)
M1 Andrew Hostetler 23:29 (that's me!)
M2 Michael McDuffie 24:55
M3 Chris Parfitt 25:04
F1 Samantha Leblanc 26:59
F2 Dana Christensen 31:51
F3 Annie Gagliardi 33:02
Here's a preview of a race we're working on for early Spring in the sorely under appreciated Belknap Range in New Hampshire's Lakes Region, 45 minutes from Concord and 1h 45m from Boston. Both long and short course options will be available. Registration will be open very soon on RunReg! We will also have an event page on our website. Please check back soon!
I stopped by the site today to map a possible route. It's looking like a challenging 8 - 10 mile course with impressive views of Lake Winnepesauke and the Southern Whites. I can't wait to see what the views have in store once the trees have shed their autumnal garb! The course will start runners on Gunstock's XC trails, around a roller coaster of inclines and downhill before they hit an absolutely beautiful ridge taking them to Mt. Rowe. From Rowe runners will head up winding switch back with great views into the Belknap range off the back of Gunstock Mt before reaching the summit. From the summit runners will bomb, or carefully pick their way down to the Cobble Mt. XC trails where they'll hit one more climb up Cobble before coming in to the finish.
Click on the maps below to take a closer look at these trails! Click here to look at the route on Strava.