Leaf Peeping from the Peak

leaf1Fall is here, and with it the crisp chill in the air that heralds the time for leaves to change, tones of green turning into magnificent shades of cherry and tangerine. What better place to leaf peep than the peak of a mountain? From the summit of Mount Osceola.

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Operation Moose

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In the small town of Greenville, Maine, moose outnumber people 3 to 1. That’s what we were counting on when we made it our goal to see a moose during our stay. It was actually why we chose that area of Moosehead Lake for the first part of our vacation adventure.

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There was no shortage of deer or turkeys – both crowded the roads whenever we ventured forth from the cabin. The slightly eerie cry of coyote filled the night air. We were definitely in the type of rural, secluded area where one might experience a (what we consider to be ‘rare’) animal encounter. Dusk found us driving along empty roads, hoping for a sighting. The roads bore signs warning of the high incidence of moose collisions. No matter where we went or what we did, we were always on the lookout for moose.

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Morning fog on the mountain.
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Look far to the right at the water line.

 

We set out on a large pond in Baxter  State Park early in the morning, silently    paddling a canoe across still waters,      listening for the tell-tale crack of branches  in the woods, but we heard none.

We looked for shredded vegetation floating in the water, signs of a messy moose breakfast, but the grass and water lilies around us were undisturbed.  It was a beautiful morning on pristine waters, fog burning off the mountains around us as the sun rose into the sky. Total silence engulfed us except for the occasional flapping of a bird’s wings.

 

Moose!

 

Then we saw it in the distance. Like an apparition, it rose from the water as we approached, a large bull, almost unbelievable to our exuberant eyes. We didn’t get very close before it ambled into the wood line, vanishing into trees and shadows, but it didn’t matter. The proof is in the picture. We had succeeded in our mission. Operation Moose was a triumph.

 

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Moose -still in the water.

For those interested in visiting Greenville to spot a moose themselves – May and June is the best time, and many guided tours offer a money back guarantee during these months. September is mating season, so they’re a bit preoccupied and harder to find.

 

Wreckage in the Woods

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At first glance, upon entering the woods, it looks like trash has been strewn about. It is only after a closer look that it becomes apparent that the refuse isn’t normal trash. It consists of metal, twisted and tortured into shreds, shards and chunks. Pieces hang from trees. A wheel appears tossed haphazardly on its side, decorated with small American flags. Larger panels lean against trees or rest on the ground, and it hits – this is a plane crash.

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It’s not nice and neat like on TV. There is no body of a plane with a snubbed nose and a broken wing leaning at an angle so you know something is wrong. This is real and it is raw. It’s messy and chaotic. This uncontained wreckage sprawls throughout the woods across the side of the mountain. Little trails snake off, leading to another piece of the rubble, flung far from the main path.

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Visitors drive across miles of rutted dirt road to pay their respects. They leave the comfort of their cars to enter the dark woods, to walk among the ruins and remember those that lost their lives. This wasn’t an act of war, but it is a war memorial, a tribute to all those who make the sacrifice to serve in the armed forces.

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A crew of 9 set out on a routine training flight on January 24, 1963. Due to a structural failure, the B-52 crashed that same day on the side of Elephant Mountain, just outside of the city of Greenville, Maine in Beaver Cove. Looking at the wreckage, it seems amazing that anyone made it through the crash alive, but two survived. The pilot was ejected and spent the night hanging 30 feet up in a tree. The navigator was also ejected, but his parachute never deployed. He landed in the snow with a force estimated at 16 times the force of gravity. After over 20 hours in temperatures that dipped as low as -30degree Fahrenheit, the two survivors were reached and airlifted to a hospital.

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The Lollipop Loop

hale3This past weekend found us hiking the Lollipop Loop that would lead us over the summits of North and South Hancock in the New Hampshire White Mountains. The hike itself was enjoyable, the trail rambling through the woods with leaves just beginning to gain their fall colors and over shallow river crossings. This trail was much easier than the hikes of the past few weeks. Until we got to the top, that is – but that’s often the case.

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The trail is called a Lollipop Loop because it resembles a lollipop. A single path leads to a divergence – you can go left and ascend North Hancock or right to South Hancock. Whichever you choose, you can hike to the other once you reach the summit, creating a loop at the top of the trail you have to take back down. Thus the lollipop.

hale1The last .7-.5 miles, depending on the direction you chose, is a steep hike. I would suggest hiking up North Hancock, and down South. The north side had a large stretch of loose rock – I’d rather climb up a sliding trail than surf down it. There are ledges at each summit that provide nice, if limited, views.

hale5The trail is located on the hairpin curve of the Kancamagus Highway. The parking lot is a few hundred feet after the road straightens out. A sign at the far end of the lot will point you in the direction of the trail-head. Even if you don’t hike, if you’re ever in the area, you should take a cruise down this road. There are plenty of places to stop for amazing views, like the vista from this lot, shown right.

 

Defeating Mount Whiteface

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I’ve finally conquered my foe and marched across the summit of Mount Whiteface. It took plenty of planning (making it to the right Whiteface is half the battle) and lots of hard work (no one said it would be easy) but this mountain has been slayed and my vendetta settled. It only took four attempts, but who’s counting?

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whiteface10The steep climb led to some ridiculous scrambles over bald rock. Large stretches of stone with limited holds that left you dangling a few thousand feet over open air. Not the most comfortable moments I’ve spent on a mountain, but the views from the ledges were spectacular, as was the view from the false summit. The true summit of Mount Whitehead is a small stone cairn nestled in the woods.

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After conquering Mount Whiteface, we hiked over to his neighbor, Mount Passaconway. The trail between the two was long and full of PUDs (Pointless Ups and Downs). After hiking halfway down over a three mile stretch, we had to gain all of our lost altitude in a one mile hike straight up. Like Whiteface, the true summit of Mount Passaconway was in the woods, but a small ledge nearby offered a nice vista.

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This was a long, arduous hike – a little more than twelve miles done in eight hours, and we were dragging our feet by the end. The journey was a struggle, but well worth the effort, and we’ve bagged two more of the White Mountain 4000 footers!

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