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.
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.