Friday, October 12, 2018

Bradbury Mountain Bruiser 2018 (Summer goal of becoming a BADASS achieved!)

Well, considering that I managed to check off my goal of reaching "badass" level at this event, this certainly is a delayed reaction post.

Several weeks ago (September 9th, to be exact) on what I believe was the first day of the year cooler than 90 degrees, Eric and I tackled the infamous Bruiser.

How quickly it goes from 90 to 40. And back to 80.

This is a tricky 12 mile race, on the"non mountain" side on Bradbury State Park. Don't let the "non mountain" statement trick you- it is a winding, rolling course, that finishes up on the rather dreadful "O-Trail". A trail so menacing, that it looks like intestines when you look at it on Strava. Gross.
This race always measures short, but it because it is LITERALLY so twisty, that no GPS in its right mind can keep track of what you are up to.

So. The day arrived. THE BIG DAY! I was not feeling fit at all. I really broke up with running this summer (temporarily... we were just on a break) and I was wondering how 12 miles would feel to my out of practice legs (spoiler: not great.) Regardless, I was determined to complete the race and collect my prize. I was NOT going to let the Badass sweatshirt escape my grasp, even if it meant I had to crawl, gasping and sobbing to the finish.

( you might be saying ....all this drama for a sweatshirt??..... and I will answer. YES. YES!!!!!!........)

Shockingly... We were quite late to the start and had to run to get there on time.

We are running to the start. But there's always time for me to take a pic!
Luckily, we made it in the nick of time. We started and made sure to be closer to the front of the pack than last year.
Which makes perfect sense, when one is in absolutely dreadful running shape!

But listen, what happens on the very narrow trails is a complete bottleneck. And if you are in it, you are IN IT. So we avoided it and were happy.

We ran mostly alone for quite a while. The weather was nice, we were winding and twisting around the trails, hopping over roots, and generally having a good time.

The thing about a 12 miler, is that eventually you aren't going to be super happy if you haven't been running more than zero miles at a time.

Overall my suffer score was moderate. MODERATELY HIGH. (JK. it was only moderate)

I had some really unpleasant stabby left ankle pain for the majority of the race. It was pretty nasty, but I am pleased to say that I haven't had any issues with that since (but I also have not been trail running since.) So who knows what that was about, but it was distracting, ouchy, and stupid.

Eric and I ran together until just before the O Trail, when I went somewhat ahead in an effort to run with some people who we had met the previous year. They clearly had been training more that I had, and I was not able to keep up with them.

But... I was lucky enough to find someone to follow through the dreaded labyrinth of the big dumb O.
Basically, on the O Trail,  you run around and around, and back and forth, and up and down until you get dizzy (all to the tune of "if you're happy and you know it." you think I am kidding, but I am not.) It's bad enough to run it with people to draft off of- and would be miserable to run alone. I was very, very glad to have a leader.

THIS IS SHIT (photo cred to Eric)

And then. 2:05:49 later, I was done. Thank the lord!
Sweatshirt in hand!! A real, honest to god badass!!!

A pair of badasses
And shockingly, inexplicably and undeservedly I was about 25 seconds faster than last year. I attribute that solely to the avoidance of the bottleneck in the first mile, and nothing more (because seriously, I ran about 13 miles in September. 12 of them on this day...)

I'm looking forward to doing this again next year. I REALLY love the Trail Monster races, and think that they are a great organization and that they put on really special events. If I ever decide to woman up and run summer miles, I would love to do the October ultra that they host. I feel like if a 12 miler is this much fun, a 30 miler would be even better (with better fitness.. and a non stabby pained ankle!)

The most remarkable thing about this race is that I did not fall!! (miracles do happen)
The second most remarkable thing is that it was a cool day (this summer was a pain in the ass)
And the third most remarkable, is that one can actually run 12 miles without practice. Although I do not really suggest this!


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Camping after a 30 year hiatus, Katahdin Stream Campground, September 2018

When I was a kid, my sister and parents and I would go camping frequently.

Not like, glamping, with a cabin, or a Winnebago, but real old fashioned camping in a tent with meals cooked over the fire.
I have very fond memories of these times (especially sneakily feeding the squirrels and gray jays at Cobscook Bay) BUT THAT ALL CHANGED, ON ONE FATEFUL TRIP.

What happened? Well, it snowed. And not just a little but like a foot. It was cold. We were little kids. I basically hated it so much that I quit camping for my whole life (my Mom did too, she was done after that nonsense) (oh, and Lee remembers it somewhat differently than we do. "it snowed a little" he claims "and it was kind of cold. what's wrong with that??" DEATH, Lee. DEATH is what is wrong!)
Well, now I might be able to suck it up but at 8 years old it felt like quite the disaster (and it was god damned ridiculously cold.)

Lee still goes camping all the time. #mental
And so does Eric.
And so do my cousins.
They always come home stinky like a fire, full of fun stories, and bursting with glee.
(this has done very little to change my standpoint. to me, camping is staying in a sketchy hotel.)

For a moment, we should reflect upon the fact that 10 years ago I really hated running, and could not imagine a worse way to spend my time.
Things change.
So I know to keep an open mind.

So all of a sudden, after our Presidential Traverse trip with Evan last month, we began to talk camping.
The motivation (for me, anyway) was to be able to experience Katahdin, and Baxter State Park. I had never been there, and I was definitely interested in seeing that part of Maine. And walking up hill, as one does.

We talked about possibly getting a posh cabin (but they were booked for the rest of my life) so Lee suggested a lean to. Since he has ample photos of every camping trip he has ever been on, he was able to provide photo evidence of said lean to. Which looked quite cozy.

Cozy Lean To
Knowing how long sites last in Baxter (NOT long) we booked a couple sites at Katahdin Stream Campground. Conveniently located at the Hunt Tail head, the exact place where we intended to begin our hike. This was a bit of a risk, because none of us had any idea if we could actually manage to get time off from work (clearly we did. a bit of a miracle, to be honest.)

The trip was nuts.
Evan worked an overnight until 8AM on Wednesday and then drove straight to Maine.
I had to work until 1:30 on Wednesday.
Somehow, Eric managed to get the day off, but was definitely taking calls the whole drive up.
BUT WE PULLED IT OFF!! (departing on Wednesday, at 1:30 PM)
(and I had to be back by 1:00 on Friday to work, and Evan had to drive straight home for another night shift. But we decided to worry about that later...)

Off we went! It's just over 4 hours to Baxter, and we beat the rain by enough to be able to unload, and get dinner cooking.
(and yes, it rained. but it did not snow! and it was like, 75 so NOT cold.)

We made it!
We split a 5 person lean to between 3 of us, which meant we had enough room to spread out a bit. (Lee got his own space because he is a party animal. or so that we didn't need to be sardines. you choose)

Getting cozy
We were able to make a fire, cook 99% of dinner (which was amazing) and have all our things set up before the real storm began.

Just before the storm....
After we ate, under cover of the lean to, pinned down the Guido Tent due to WIND! and RAIN!(which is like a tent that covers a picnic table that has a funny name in our family because #reasons) , we cashed it in and went to bed. It was late anyway, and had been a long day!
I had a super thick sleeping pad, and with the sound of the rain, the thunder, and the roaring stream in the background, I slept quite well!! (no rain the second night, but still nice stream noise)

There is the stream. 
The next morning, we got up and ate and hiked!! (but this story has been told)

When we got back from hiking I tried to start a fire.
And failed. I blame the fact that everything was damp (so I got a lighter, and lit that shit up.)

I am NOT the firestarter
We sat around my successfully lit (and often stoked) fire, eating sardines and huge blocks of cheese, and guacamole, and bacon and pancakes, and apple crisp (no shit. we ate like kings) I REALLY enjoyed tossing everything into the fire. Hay rope. Plates. Sardines. Cork. Nothing was safe. The fire was my favorite.

Proof. It's lit. 
We watched squirrels steal our belongings.
One spent a night in Lee's truck, and wreaked havoc on our snacks. Little fucker.

He found this cork... And ate it. OK. And then I burned it (cork, not wildlife. relax)
We had some very amusing conversation about trail names. I was not aware that trail names were a thing until a couple years ago. Now I am quite interested and amused by them.

The winners of the day:
-BushBaby (we need details, did you have a baby in a bush?)
-Box Turtle (why?)
-Terminator (awesome)
-SwampAss (well, we aren't sure if that is his name.... the others are real though!)

On the drive out, we saw the view that should have greeted us had the weather not been so ornery.

It is safe to say that my first foray into camping after a lengthy hiatus was a success.
Several things contributed:

-Mostly excellent weather, no bugs
-Suitable accommodations (very pleasant)
-EXCELLENT food, which was a bit of work, but all worth it
-GREAT COMPANY!! Probably the most key factor in all of this.

Tips for wimps:
-Get comfy things to sleep on. Be posh. Don't suffer. Bring your pillow. Your jammies. The usual.
-Bring lots of lighting, I had a little lamp, a headlamp and a flashlight.
-Obviously bring a ton of amazing food. Don't eat sad ramen.
-Pack extra warm clothing. Even if you don't need it, it's nice to know that you won't freeze!
-Take your friends.

I'm not quite ready to buy a tent, and head into the back country (ummm. no) But I had a terrific time, and can't wait to try out my camping courage again next year.


Monday, October 1, 2018

Katahdin via Hunt Trail, September 27th 2018

Last week, in a completely whirlwind (and completely fun) 48 hour trip, Eric, Lee, Evan and I climbed Katahdin.

Yes, yes we did
Now, growing up with Lee (the hiking master) I know that I should be specific, and state that we summited Baxter peak. I grew up in Maine (with a hiking family, obvs) so I understand the layout of Katahdin. There is the highest peak, Baxter, which is famous for being the Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

The sign agrees
Katahdin has several sub-peaks, South Peak, Pamola, Chimney Peak, Hamlin Peak, and South/North Howe Peaks. (I have literally never met a person who has mentioned any peak other than Pamola and Baxter. But they, evidently, exist.)
Either way. We summited Baxter Peak via Hunt Trail, which is the final stretch of the AT.

We chose this route based on the convenience of the trailhead location, as we were luckily able to snag an amazing lean to at Katahdin Springs Campground. (mid week plans, for the win!) We were in camp site 12, and literally walked out the door and were at the trail head.
Katahdin was not on my radar earlier in the season, as the thought of camping makes me cringe. (and it's just not a day trip from where we live) As my hiking bug grew, and ridiculous adventures seemed more sensible, I decided to bite the bullet and take the plunge (I'm going to write a separate post on the fantasticness of this camping experience, and why I quit camping to begin with 30 years ago.)
(but this post is about the hike)

After a good nights sleep, we were all up and ready to hit the trail at 7:15. The weather simply could not have been better, which is the most remarkable part of this trip. (except the part where I slept outdoors, of my own volition.)

The weather was brisk (which prompted all of us to pack like it was going to be a Mt Washington wind/fog/death march) but the chilly start was just there to wake us up for a DAMN NICE DAY!

Slightly chilly at the start, and almost awake
The first mile, or so, of the trail was amazingly pleasant.

Perfect trail, and the best hiking friends!
We walked through the Narnia Forest (fun fact: this part of Baxter State Park was the inspiration for the forest in the Disney movie Bambi!)

Where are you, Bambi??
The terrain was a mixture of so-easy that your Grandma could do it, and occasional roots and rocks, and the classic bridge crossing.

Warmer. Enjoying the oh so rustic bridge. 
Right around mile one was Katahdin Stream Falls, which wins "best waterfall" for 2018.

After the falls, the trail began to get more challenging. (so... leave Grandma at the falls!)

We trundled uphill for a while, and while there was the occasional rocky jump, or mysterious trail stream, I found this section to be more forgiving than most of the ascents on the White Mountains that we have accomplished this year.

Stone stairs are forgiving compared to some climbs
But don't worry, it was not just a casual walk up a bunch of stairs.

Just some rocks
But you also get great views, really quickly.

Double Top, wayyyy over there
Plus, when there are super big rocks, we always make use of them #dorks

So fit. This is now a hiking tradition for these two. Now figure up how to climb up THERE. 
We were lucky to get an amazing view of the Owl from a terrific vantage point (basically, a giant boulder. this scenic overlook has a name which I just can not recall at the moment.)

Hello, Owl
Very shortly after that point, things became serious. (as in: if the weather is bad, or you are unprepared, if you are already feeling fatigue, if you aren't up for a serious scramble TURN AROUND!)

We encountered a series of giant rocks, and the trail turned away from hiking, and into scrambling/light bouldering pretty damn quickly. Apparently, this is the beginning of the Hunt Spur. It's quite full of gigantic stones.

Yes, you need to climb up that!!
Through this segment of trail, you will encounter some very *tight fit* spaces, which could challenge a human with a large pack (or a human who has very broad shoulders.) You must scramble up some very steep sections, some of which are equipped with iron bars.

Good luck scrambling up to that iron towel hanger....
From ahead of us we heard Evan say "wow... that was pretty intense...." And if HE thinks that the actual, blazed route is intense. IT IS.

After clambering through the giant boulders, we came across a perfect and GOD DAMNED MAGICAL plateau to have lunch upon. And it was just amazing.

The hike could have ended here, and we all would have felt satisfied (sort of)

We encountered some through hikers, and it was really cool to talk to them about their experiences, and how they were feeling with only a few miles to go. Hiking the AT is pretty impressive (and pretty luxurious if you want an unpopular opinion! but hey, being able to take 6 months off for hiking is pretty boujee if you ask me!)

So after hanging out in friggin heaven for a while having lunch, off we went.
Where were we going????

WHERE?? UP!!!!
We were going to tackle the remainder of the Hunt Spur. Thought you were done?? Nope!

OH HI (and that is NOT the top)
This section of trail should not be taken lightly, but I found it easier on the uphill route than I had the iron-bar-boulder section. I have since heard tales of people getting panicked from the heights on this part of the spur, and hitting the bail out button.

Just the beginning....
But Lee is fine, FYI.
Lee doesn't give AF
I think it goes without saying, but I would NEVER suggest doing this trip on a rainy/low vis day. Way too many possibilities for disaster.
But honestly, I had zero issues with the "up" section of the spur.
And neither did Evan..... (or any of us, but he climbs things)

"Evan... Don't make me call your mother!!"
The final push up the spur is called the gateway.

Holy shit. Where are we???
We paused to regroup (it literally goes from this ass kicking climbing to a flat, sunny, grassy, gorgeous landscape.) Just unreal.

While we took our moment, we got to talk to more through hikers! Seriously, this was so fun. Some of them smell terrible (causing us to give them trail names like "toe cheese"and "swamp ass") but most of them were really fun and funny, and not smelly at all,  and they all sit around looking hungry and chain smoking. (go figure)

And then we were off through the Table Land of magic, towards the summit.

Basically another planet. Amazing. 
We came across the famed Thoreau Springs, and Lee said it was the most watery that he has ever seen it. Apparently, it usually looks like someone peed on the ground. On this day, it was basically a small brook!

Quality photo...
Walking across the Table Land was like nothing I have experienced. It was warm and dry, for starters, but it was also PINK! Small planes circled the summit frequently, which lessened the feeling that we were actually on another planet (seriously, it was so cool. such an amazing place to experience!)

And yes, I saw a crow in the distance. 
And what weather! As clear as we have seen, 60, dry and perfect. We were all so happy!

Selfie time!
From the gateway to the summit it was probably close to a mile, but it seemed shorter because quite a bit was flat. There was a final, moderate 300ish ft climb to the peak, and just like that... We were there.


Please don't fall
We made it!
After spending some time at the summit, watching terrified looking hikers finish the Knife Edge (I think I'll tackle it someday. But NOT now) and taking in the sights, we headed down.

While we certainly set a blistering pace on the Table Land, the Spur really set all of us back a bit (especially me.)

Gotta go down this mess
Apparently, on the way up I simply had not noticed the narrow passage way, or incline that we were traveling at.
I noticed on the descent. (pro tip: just don't look down.... or think too much.)

An easy section....
Honestly, after getting through the shit show upper spur, the iron bar section was a breeze. For all of us, it was much easier on the way down. I took alternate routes, which required some leaping, but were not terribly challenging.

Somehow, none of us wiped out. We laughed a LOT (over the most ridiculous things that I wish I could remember now!)

We kind of blazed through the descent. Food and beer were calling.

Back to the flat lands
Before long, we were back at our cozy campsite!!

We could not have asked for better weather. We had such a great time, and it was amazing to see the landscape of Katahdin. I really look forward to returning to Baxter again, and seeing more of what this beautiful part of Maine has to offer.

Milage- 10.0 miles 

Elevation- 4,596

Time: 7:48 (included some lunch and such. the usual)

Challenge level- I need to lock down a rating system for this. I would have to say, given the distance and the aggressive scrambling that I would call this strenuous. (extremely difficult? is that what I have been saying? give me a few days and I'll work out how to rate this shit. Go read your mountain guide for actual advice haha.) 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Presidential Traverse Attempt, September 3rd 2018

After YEARS of wishing, and hoping, and planning (or maybe weeks.... but who's counting) Evan, Eric and I all managed to get a day off together, with the intention of conquering the traverse.

Even the weather seemed ready to cooperate. 6 hours out, we were looking at some possible morning showers, a solid sunny day with warm temps, and some thunderstorms that might arrive after we expected to finish up. (so no real concerns!) We all felt excited, unreasonably well prepared, and ready to take it on!!

As usual, we got up really horribly early. (1:30!!) The early hour didn't feel bad at all. We were all quite excited, feeling good, and ready to gooooo!

For the first time ever, we arrived at the Appalachia parking lot early, and began our hike at 3:20 (10 min ahead of schedule!!) The lot was crowded, but not nearly as badly as the last time we were there in July. It was extremely warm (70) and very humid, but clear.

Typical "start" pic!
The owls greeted us, and for the first half mile they were very active and talkative. It was a pretty neat way to get the day started!

Since Eric and I have taken Valley Way twice this year, we chose the Watson Path option.

Watson proved to be a challenge, which was not unexpected. While it cuts off a bit of mileage, and eliminates the need for the out-and-back from Madison Hut to the Summit, it is God Damn aggressive.  We aren't sad that we did it, but now we can tell you to not bother with it, especially if it is dark.

Looking down at Eric and Evan while heading up Watson Path
And dark it was. We played "find the cairn" because getting lost on the first peak is lame. (getting lost on ANY peak is LAME.)

That's me, looking for a cairn!
AND. This should come a a shock to nobody. As soon as dawn broke, we realized we were completely stuck in the clouds.

For Christ Sake
We summited Madison and it was a damp crap fest.

Happy in the crap fest, haha!
And then it began to rain. And it was 40 MPH wind. And I fell down, skidded into a crevice and got rather shaken up.

We hobbled into the Hut, in a bit of a mess. Well, Evan seemed to be feeling good. But the old people were feeling that the conditions needed to be discussed.
We took a bit of time and checked out the forecast (it looked crummy, 50 degrees, stupid wind, low visibility.) The one thing that was a positive, was that the rain was supposed to stop, and it wasn't freezing  Looking out the hut windows, at the pea soup conditions we did NOT feel encouraged, but with a plan to take it very slow and safe, we headed to Adams.

Adams was a mess.
We stopped prior to summiting and discussed the pros and cons of continuing. As motivated, and excited as we were to complete the hike, safety trumps all. We concluded that with the fitness we had, with the items we had brought, and the (multiple) back-up and bail-out plans in place, we could continue with caution and reassess as needed.

At one point, even thought we continued to play "find the cairn" we lost the one in front of us (but could see the previous one #safety.) Evan was in the lead, not far ahead, when the clouds completely obscured him from my and Eric's vision. We were all like "OK. STOP. DANGER." The wind blew the cloud away, just enough for Eric to get a line of sight on the next cairn, which was in a rather unexpected place. So, we continued! Happily!

From there, it was more of the same. About the time that we hit the Col between Adams and Jefferson, we were being bombarded by ridiculous wind, and combined with the still very slick conditions, summiting Jefferson seemed stupid. We hunkered down behind a huge rock and came up with a plan B.

From behind the large rock
Rather than just calling it a day, and having Lee pick us up from the base of Washington, we decided to avoid summits until the weather improved. (or, until we got to Washington and decided to bail!!) This meant the end of our real traverse attempt, but left the door open for a decent long hike. The climb over Madison and Adams to Jefferson is always a tedious stretch, but the conditions were making it a bit more of an issue. I think if we had made it up Jefferson, we probably would have bailed early.
We DO NOT wish to be the people who casually go hiking, and need helicopter evacuation. Evan especially did not want this, as he had not purchased the Fish and Game Department Hike Safe Card (which is sort of like hiking insurance, more or less!) (and honestly, don't get a heli evac. just don't.)
Since it was complete crap out I kept shouting encouraging statements, in between bouts of falling down and getting very angry. I was like "you GUYS!!! We just need RELENTLESS FORWARD COMMOTION!!!!" (you had to be there. it was very appropriate, given the situation!)

We tip-toed along, passing below the summits of Jefferson and Clay. Compared to every other hike this season, the trail was dead quiet (not really a super hiking day!) We finally got a break in the wind after passing the trail to head up Jefferson, and we took a chance to grab a snack.

We are always eating
Coming to Washington, we heard (but didn't see...  because fog....) the train, and walked under the tracks on our way to Crawford Path.

Can't miss an instagram moment!!
Despite the still cloudy weather, the hike to avoid Washington's peak was a good one. Some pretty decent rock footing, and the definite feeling that you are LITERALLY CLINGING TO THE SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN!!! Evan kept jokingly bringing up his need for the Helicopter evac, and (always fascinated by nature) thought about adding some wild mushrooms and berries to his diet to speed up the inevitable evacuation. This was very funny at the time.....!

Clinging, and snacking. 
And then again (nobody is shocked!) We arrived at Lakes of the Clouds, and the damn sun came out! And the wind quit! And it was a million degrees and magical!!

So, from there.....

We killed Monroe (always a good one!)

Technically heading towards Franklin here
Evan literally RAN up Eisenhower!!!

And then, he waited for us a the top.

It's good to be young!
We saw adorable BIRDS!!

I love you
And we then skipped our way to Pierce.

And made it!

Relaxing after a LONG DAY!
We LOVE the Southern peaks. They are just so much fun, and can totally save an otherwise tricky hike.
Just not ugly at all
We hobbled down through Narnia.

There is no forest prettier than the one on Crawford Path
And met Lee in the glorious parking lot for beers!!!
Literally so tired
No, this was technically not a "Traverse" but we still crushed a ton of mileage, bagged and tagged a bunch of peaks, did not die, and Evan and I had fun! (Eric was a little too worried about the conditions to have quite as much fun as we did.... he is a good adult.)

I was bloody!
After a good clean up, haha. 
The moral of the story here.
We aren't the most expert hikers in the universe, and would not be wishing to deal with conditions more challenging that we faced. As usual, we were well prepared with ample food and emergency gear, and kept a keen eye on our direction. (it would be far too easy to become disoriented in the bad visibility.) We did have a good hike. We stayed safe, and relatively unscathed. We managed to have good communication with the outside world, via texting/messenger. (don't count on that though!)
We were very happy to be able to experience this with Evan, and hope that we can manage all the peaks sometime in the near future!

Know this: if you decide to bypass peaks for safety, it is still a very long and challenging hike. Always have bail out options. Always have a plan. We discussed the safest choices a number of times, and if any of us had been out of shape, this hike would not have been viable!


Elevation- 7,700 ft

Time: 13:40 (and honestly, you just have to except to have a pretty decent amount of stopped time. We had about 1:15, which included hut breaks, peeing, snacking, and having to engage in a huge safety summit while hanging off the side of Adams in the fog....!)

Challenge level- in the conditions we dealt with, I would call this extremely difficult. I am sure there are people (expert hikers, really experienced outdoor people) who may be extremely confident in the weather we dealt with. If you, like us, are normal people (and we happen to be relatively fit, and have appropriate safety gear) please use caution when dealing with any poor weather conditions in the White Mountains.