Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves

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lostriver1lostriverLast month, thanks to an awesome deal through Groupon, we went and explored Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves in Woodstock, New Hampshire. This attraction features a series of over 1000 stairs leading you up, down, and through a glacial gorge notched into huge slabs of granite rock. Winding your way past a series of cascades, you can’t help but feel the weight of the passage of time upon the landscape. And while I wasn’t feeling the caves that day, (I proved myself enough at the Polar Caves in Rumney), there were a ton of tight, twisty little passages for spelunkers to explore. This is a fun excursion, easily lengthened by numerous hiking trails. While there, I highly recommend exploring the great towns of Woodstock and Lincoln, and taking in  the gorgeous views, especially if you find your way to the Kancamagus Highway.

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Groundhogs, Gardens, and Guilt

BillAbout a month ago I made a new friend. It was an inquisitive, furry little creature that moved in with the chipmunks under my porch. After a quick internet search, I confirmed that it was a groundhog and gave him (or her) what may be the most imaginative name ever for a groundhog, Bill Murray.

Having no prior experience with groundhogs, this is complete conjecture, but I think Bill Murray may be cooler than the average groundhog. Bill thought nothing of coming up on the front stoop and looking inside the house. Or hanging out in my flowers. Or the dog pen (which wasn’t the best idea on Bill’s part).

Bill2Every day, I’d give Bill my apple core. He helped himself to lettuce and strawberries from my garden. I didn’t mind, because I’d grown way more lettuce than my husband and I could eat, and I’d rather share with Bill than risk it going to waste. And Bill left all the rest of the vegetable alone. So ours was a symbiotic friendship.

Alas, it could not last.

Because Bill started chewing on the house, eating the wood trim away to make the holes he had dug in the ground bigger. Keeping up with an old farm house is hard enough without a saboteur in my midst. So the decision was made. Bill had to go.

Bill3I bought a live trap at the local farmer’s union. Despite the betrayal, this wasn’t a Fredo from Godfather moment. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to Bill. I just didn’t want him to destroy my house.

Several days passed without Bill getting in the trap. The chipmunks ran in and grabbed the apple core out, minions bringing the loot to their bigger roommate. I had almost given up hope. I thought it would never happen. Then I took the dogs out one rainy night before bed, and I knew. It was the most inopportune time. I was tired. Cranky. I wanted to crawl in bed and get some sleep. It was wet and miserable out, not the kind of weather to leave a living creature trapped out in the elements. Sure enough, Bill was in the cage.

I loaded the trap in the back of the Jeep, my husband and I standing over the seemingly fearless creature in the cage. Bill looked at me with sadness and regret in his eyes. The house destruction was a moment of weakness, he seemed to say, it wouldn’t happen again. He put his little hand through the wires of the cage, as if he were reaching for me, his eyes never leaving mine. My heart broke. But my mind was made up.

The guys at the farmer’s union told me to make sure I took him at least 10 miles away, preferably over a body of water, to prevent his return. So my husband and I spent an hour driving him way farther than that out to his new home, the shore of a huge pond deep in the woods of moose country. If the area could support moose, (and the deer and fox we passed in droves), then surely a groundhog’s needs could be met, too.

I opened the cage along the edge of the pond. Bill stepped out, turned around, and looked at me. He seemed to be asking me not to do it. He could change, he’d be a better friend, stay out of the garden and be less destructive. I shook my head no. He slowly walked off, pausing often to look back at me, making sure I didn’t have a last minute change of mind. As much as it hurt, I stood strong.

I spent days wracked with guilt. Would Bill be alright in his new home? Would he be safe? Would he be overcome with crippling depression at the rejection, unable to get out of his groundhog bed in the morning?

Bill4A week passed. The void Bill Murray left in my life was starting to shrink. The pain was starting to fade. I walked into the kitchen, where my husband was eating lunch. He looked at me a moment, then suggested that I look outside. There, out front, was a groundhog. Apparently, I had just missed seeing the little face peer inside. The body looked a little bigger, the tail was pretty ratty.

Could it be? Had Bill Murray hiked over twenty miles to return home?  All guilt I felt immediately vanished, replaced by fear. Maybe even a little anger. How would I ever manage to catch him again? What would he do in retribution? Throwing open the door, I went outside to confront my nemesis. The groundhog froze, looked at me with fear, and bolted. Never to return again.

Was it Bill Murray? I’ll never know for sure, but I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that Bill is stretched out, relaxing on a sunny pond bank, chewing on tender shoots and living the good life. I wish all the best for Bill. As long as he doesn’t come back.

 

North and South Twin Mountains

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We recently hiked North and South Twin Mountain, making us officially 50% done with the New Hampshire 4000 footers! We began the hike off Haystack road, approaching from the north. There were some crazy river crossings on this trail, including a scoot across a fallen log over a raging torrent of rushing water – perhaps approaching from this side is a better idea when there hasn’t been heavy rains in the area?

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After what seemed like forever (but was really only 3.5 hours), we reached the overlook for North Twin. Although only 1.3 miles from the summit of South Twin, the distance looked long and daunting, especially since this hike was and in and out instead of a loop, which meant hiking over to South Twin, then back over to North before heading down. Basically hiking up – down – up – down – up – down. There’s no way your legs aren’t going to feel that :-/

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At 4902 feet, South Twin is the 8th highest of the 4000 footers (North is 12th). This hike was a challenge, but the views were incredible! The 11 mile hike took us just under 8 hours, which would have been shorter if my knee had been a little more agreeable on the way down. All in all, an awesome hike with breathtaking payoffs at the top. If you approach from the south, the AMC’s Galehead Hut is about a mile from the South summit, providing an alternative for those who don’t want to tackle the hike in a single day.

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(Surprise) to Mount Moriah – Another 4000 footer bites the dust!

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So . . . what can I say that’s nice about this hike? The view was gorgeous. And that’s about it. While incredibly beautiful, Moriah was one nasty lady on the day we hiked her. Or maybe I shouldn’t blame her. Maybe it’s not her fault. Maybe it’s that the surprise part of hiking over (and especially back over, on  the way down) Mount Surprise is that it seems to never end. Ever. Twilight Zone, stuck doing the same thing forever, never. Surprise!

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Of course, it could also be that we hiked it on what was the hottest day of the year so far. And being 4000+ feet closer to the sun really does seem to make it feel hotter. Especially when you’re drinking over a pound of water an hour and sweating it out twice as fast as you can drink it. Then there’s that whole searing heat radiating up from the sun baked rock thing. It could be that some of that added to the sour taste this hike left in my mouth.

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Whatever the case, I didn’t love this hike. Except when it was over. Actually, not until it was several days done with, but who’s counting (besides me). The important thing is that we completed the 9 miles safely. Some hikes are better than others. Some days make conditions more difficult. That’s what we prepare for. It isn’t always easy, but most things worth working for aren’t. The next hike will be better.

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At 4049 feet, Mount Moriah is #41 on New Hampshire’s list of 48 4000 footers.

Middle Mountain

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Middle Mountain is an 1857 foot peak in North Conway, NH that offers an excellent view of the valley below. Start at the Pudding Pond trail head (heading north on North-South Road, take a right onto Artist Falls Road, then another right onto Thompson Road, trail parking is on the right). When you see the kiosk with trail info, take the path to the left and chose the fork closer to the parking area.

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This is an easy hike with a great payoff. It can easily be combined with a side trip to Peaked Mountain, also with a great view of the valley. Your hike can be further stretched to include Black Cap and Cranmore Mountains, all part of the Green Hills Preserve.

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DIY ~ Strawberry Pallet Planter

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imageimageThis was something that I saw on Pinterest and thought, “I could do that.” So I got a pallet that was in good shape, found some weed barrier stuff at the local dollar store, and loaded the staple gun. I doubled the material, cut it slightly larger than necessary, centered it, and began with a staple in the middle. Voila! A strawberry planter made out of a pallet. This project couldn’t have been much simpler and the strawberry plants seem to love it. No fruit lying against the soil, rotting.

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Mount Jackson ~ Presidential Range, NH

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Although part of the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Mount Jackson was named after 19th century Geologist Charles Thomas Jackson and not President Andrew Jackson.

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At 4052 feet, it is the 38th tallest of New Hampshire’s 48 4000 footers.

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This is a moderate hike with numerous river crossings and rock scrambles.

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There’s a great view of Mount Washington in the (not so far) distance.

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In mid-May, there was still quite a bit of ice on the trail.

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The views from the summit are wonderful, if very, VERY windy.

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 It was our first 4000 footer of the season, and I’m not going to lie – it was rough.

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The 5.6 mile hike took us about 4.5 hours, though I have no doubt that the hike could be done much faster.

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Jockey Cap ~ Fryeburg, Maine

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Jockey Cap is a 600 foot glacial boulder in Fryeburg, Maine that offers exceptional views with about 10 minutes of (somewhat strenuous) effort. Enough to get your heart pumping, but over before you think about lying down.

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To find the trail, navigate to Quinn’s Jocky Cap General Store. Part across the street. The trail head is in the back left corner of the parking lot when facing the store.

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Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse in Maine

The Portland Head Light on Cape Elizabeth in Maine is a picturesque lighthouse on a small jetty in the Atlantic.

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I visited on a sunny day in mid-March when the winds were high and chilly.

The photos don’t do the beauty of this spot justice.

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The water was an unbelievable shade of blue.

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A cliff walk snakes along the shore, providing the perfect place to get some fresh air and sunshine.

My Top 5 Mountain Hikes of 2015

Although I didn’t get nearly as many mountains hiked as I had hoped this year, I crossed another seven 4,000 footers off my list and saw many amazing, memorable views. As the year draws to a close, I’ve looked back and determined my top 5 mountain hikes of the year.

1  Mount Pierce/Mount Eisenhower Loop – This was one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes I did this year. Mount Pierce and Mount Eisenhower are both 4000 footers that are part of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. Both have great views, but the vista from the summit of Eisenhower was incredible. Definitely worth the 10 mile, 6-7 hour hike.

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2   Black Cap Mountain – One of my first hikes after the thaw this year, we hiked several miles up a closed road before reaching the mountain trail, and this was still an easy hike (in comparison to most mountains). Though this mountain is small (2,369 feet), the view is mighty! Black Cap Mountain offers a spectacular view and is a great hike.

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3   Mount Chocorua – I hiked up Mount Chocorua via the Champney Falls Trail, which is a gorgeous hike along waterfalls until you reach the switchbacks leading to the top of the mountain. The easternmost peak of the Sandwich Range, the views from Chocorua’s 3,490 foot summit spread far and wide, allowing for a gorgeous look of the surrounding landscape.

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garfield4   Mount Garfield – I’d be lying if I said this was one of my favorite hikes, but it was one of my favorite views, which made the monotonous, grueling hike worth the effort. At 4,500 feet, Mount Garfield is the 17th highest of the New Hampshire 4000 footers. This was the first time I hiked a snow covered mountain, which I didn’t love, but the view at the top was so incredibly gorgeous that I completely forgot the horrors of the trail (until I was back on it on the way down). I was momentarily transported to an almost magical winter wonderland. Then I was back on the trail. The beauty was short lived, but it’s definitely a memory I’ll cherish forever.

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5     Mount Field – I peak bagged Mount Field along with Mount Willey, and was supposed to head over to Mount Tom, too, (all 4000 footers in the Crawford Notch region) but the weather turned and that didn’t happen. Usually I have a vendetta against a mountain anytime the hike doesn’t go as planned, but this time I didn’t. Perhaps that’s why I liked this hike – because it was a lesson where I grew and gained maturity. Maybe, but it’s more likely that the memory of the creepy birds landing on my hands with their taloned death grip grew on me (it did). I’d like to go back and have another chance with those birds. This time I’d try harder to put my whole birds are dinosaurs that sometimes peck your eyes out thing out of mind and instead try to enjoy becoming intimately acquainted with my new feathered friends as they land on me like I’m in a Disney movie.

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