Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tecumseh: The Western Approach

Just because it's the shortest 4000fter doesn't mean you have to take the shortest path to the top. At 4003ft, the peak of Mt. Tecumseh is accessible via two routes. One up the ski slopes of Waterville Valley is the shortest but the Western Approach (which sounds much more impressively technical) is the nicer.

Starting form Tripoli Road, a unique combination of fire road/campground, the trail crosses two brooks then begins a gentle ascent along an old road. One guide book called it a logging road, but another book, Logging railroads of the Saco River Valley, suggested it might have originally been a farm road. Now days, it is a nice wide path through a mature forest of maples, oaks, and gray and white birches. While the area was last farmed/logged in the 1910's it apparently never suffered through the devastating fires that set back forest reclamation in other areas of the White Mountains. Still the trees are so big, it's hard to believe that some of these large trees are only a hundred years old.

After about .5 miles the trail takes a right hand turn off the old road and begins ascending at a steeper pitch just as a few conifers begin to appear in the forest. Occasionally clearings offer views North to Mt. Osceola or turns in the trail bring you face to face with a fox. We saw this guy twice, once on the way up, and again on the way down. Tom, the only other person we met on the trail had seen the fox too, said it even walked in front of him for a little while. When we first 'met' Mr. Fox, he just sat in the middle of the trail and looked at us. Very calmly. The second time he had a chipmunk and only a few seconds for us. It was obvious from his demeanor and the many little paw prints in the muddy sections of the trail, that this was his hunting ground and that he was very comfortable with people. Not sure exactly, however, we fit into his plans.

The rest of the walk was very nice, the trail wide, and the view from the top was off to the North and the  Tripyramids. On the way down we hiked through a great thunderstorm. They really are so much more enjoyable when you've got a warm car and a dry change of cloths at the end of the trail! 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Miles from Nowhere - Bicycle Touring

Miles From Nowhere is one of the best bicycling touring books ever! Joe Kurmaskie's Metal Cowboy: Tales from the Road Less Pedaled and Riding Outside The Lines: International Incidents and Other Misadventures with the Metal Cowboy are great fun, but they don't come close to describing the day – to – day hunting and gathering- all-the-while-dealing-with-new-cultures aspect that Barbara Savage manages to brings out during her and her husband Larry's two year ride around the world.

Today's world is remarkably different than the late 1970's when the Savages took their ride and you can't help wondering how it would play out today. Certainly they wouldn't need to go months without hearing from home, or pedal furiously over dirt roads to be in town for a wire-transfer, scheduled 6 months previous and we know that the wind still blows furiously in South Dakota and Austria, the Himilayans still have very high passes, India is hot and dry, and New Zealand is still populated predominantly by sheep but the bigger questions remain. Do drivers in the Florida Keys still run bicycles off the road? Can bicyclists still camp at Stonehedge? Do Egyptians continue to stare at foreigners, or just foreigners on bikes? Will New Zealanders loan you their car to tour the island? Can you still camp on the beaches in Tahti?

Hmmm, maybe I'll have to take a ride and find out.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Mt. Cabot

If a 200 year-old trail goes through private lands, does a new landowner have the right to close it? Sunday we hiked to the summit of Mt. Cabot, the northern-most of the NH 4000fters via the Bunnell Notch Trail as the person who owned the first mile of the traditional Mt. Cabot trail has closed it to hikers. Don't get me wrong, the Bunnell Notch trail is a fine trail, and since the closure of the other some wonderful folks have added a number of stone steps, bog bridges and reroutes to drier land, but when you join up with the remainder of the old Cabot trail on the West side of the mountain, you realize that not only was it the most direct route to the summit, it was also an historic trail. From the careful placement of the stones, and the carefully chosen switchbacks, it becomes obvious that this, like yesterday's Starr King trail, was also one of the historic bridal paths constructed in the 1850's when the Grand Trunk Railroad came through Gorham, NH making it the center of the Victorian hiking experience.

According to the AMC White Mountain Guide and the various forums on the internet, the property owner closed the trail sometime in the early 2000's. Although there was optimism that it would reopen (following negotiation with various clubs?/lawsuits?) it is still closed and that section has been removed from all official maps. Some hikers feel justified in trespassing, either through disregard, or as a political statement, maintaining that the trail is protected by a deeded, legal right of way. Others believe the owner closed the trail to avoid possible liability lawsuits.

Trails crossing private lands is not a new, or even unusual thing. Many times while hiking in the Whites, and other places, a sign on the trail will notify hikers that they are entering/leaving private land. The signs also usually ask that the hiker stay on the rail. Most hikers honor the request, most landowners allow the trails to continue. But as with all things, there are the exceptions.

I can understand some of the landowners concerns. Not all hikers adhere to Leave No Trace, not all assume personal responsibility for their well being on the trail. Some have even been known to sue the folks who rescue them. But there are laws to protect the homeowner and I do believe that if you purchased a piece of land with an existing trail, and in this case, an historic trail, you have an obligation to keep that trail open. If you can not fulfill that obligation then don't buy the property, or deed the land over to a land trust that can open the trail.

As it stands now there are three trails to the summit of Mt. Cabot. One that 'starts' in the middle of the woods on the border of the White Mountain National Forest land, one, the Kilkenney Ridge trail – which is an overnight backpacking trek a long a scenic ridge, and the Bunnell Notch Trail. I chose the path of least resistance, and am a bit disturbed by the situation.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Mt. Waumbek

Saturday we walked up Mt. Waumbek taking the more popular route from the parking lot off RT 2 and crossing over the summit of Starr King Mountain. The honor of naming (and renaming) of the White Mountains seems to follow the rules of war – whoever possesses them gets to name them. For instance, the Presidentials were named by a bunch of hikers from nearby Lancaster, NH who happened to be the first group to climb Washington with necessary supplies for toasting the newly named peaks.*

Whoever (re)named Starr King Mountain must have done so sometime after 1850. Considering Starr King's cache at the time, I'm surprised at at the selection. Don't get me wrong, it is a nice mountain, with a good view South to the Presidentials but Waumbek, less than .5 miles to the East is higher, and has better views, and Starr King was, at the time, the guy who wrote the book on The White Hills: Their Legends, Landscape, and Poetry (Classic Reprint) as he titled it. Part guidebook, part romantic rhapsody the book combines a call for all to visit the Hills as well as preserve it and is credited with being a major cause for the White Mountain tourist pre-Civil War tourist boom.

At one point Starr King Mountain had a summit cabin and a bridal path leading to it, as many of the White Mountains did at the time. The stone hearth now stands in a small meadow. Hikers gather there in the sun to enjoy the views and a snack, often before moving on to Mt. Waumbec. Most do not know about Starr King (full name Thomas Starr King, who was also a famous Unitarian Universalist Minister in Boston, and later San Fransisco where he has another mt named after him.) but everyone who makes the climb has a chance to enjoy what he most enjoyed.

If hiking Mt. Waumbek from the West be sure and walk about 40 yards passed the3 summit. The peak is forested but there is a clearing to the East with views to the South of Adams, Monroe, and Jefferson.

*Forest and Crag, A History of Hiking, Trail Blazing, and