Monday, June 3, 2013


Building up mileage for a long Solstice hike in June culminated this weekend in a hike of the Wapack trail in New Hampshire.

In early April we started our build-up with a modest Monadnock trail (choosing the alternative return hike via the Cascade link trail 8mi) followed by a couple of return trips to Monadnock, each of which were planned to increase the mileage - on one trip summiting 3 times in one day over a distance of 11mi and on the last visit, a single summit after hiking around the mountain in the foothills for a distance of 13mi.  An additional preparation hike included three 4000ft peaks in the White mountains.

The Wapack trail was the first hiking trail in New Hampsire and is one of the oldest trails in the USA (celebrating 90 years this year).  Benton MacKaye, then a teacher in Shirley, MA brought his pupils to help with construction on occasion and was a frequent hiker on the trail.  Benton went on to build the Appalachian Trail which was started in the year that the Wapack trail was completed in 1923.

The trail is 21mi (33.7km) in length and includes 8 peaks - most of which are fairly low by NH White mountain standards.  The idea behind doing this entire trail in one day was to get a sense of the distance we have to cover for the Solstice hike along the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains without the elevation gain.

We left early, expecting the hike to take between 10 and 12 hours and were joined on the first section by Angelika and Parker.  Parker regaled us with adventure stories (as participants in sieges and campaigns) for the first 3 hours of the hike.

The first summit is North Pack Monadnock from where we saw a spectacular view of the early sun.
Monadnock is a Native American (Abenati) term for isolated mountain (inselberg or koppie) and Pack is a term for "little".  These are large compared to the koppies that we used to climb in the Northern Cape of South Africa, but in elevation remind me of the Hogsback mountains in the Eastern Cape.

The hiking was easy though - particularly in the early morning before the heat of the day set in.  The day before our hike the temperatures were up around 90F (33C) and fairly humid which in part prompted a start of 5am for us.

The trailhead is about 2 hours drive from my home so I ended up sleeping up in New Hampshire to save that long early morning drive.  We'll be doing something similar for the Solstice hike with a plan to be at the trailhead at about 4am in the morning.  This time I'll eat a lot more carbohydrates than I did before Wapack.

NewlywedsWe reached Pack Monadnock next.  You can drive your car up here and I have done that several times in the past because this is where the Audubon society has seasonal birding events - in particular during the migration season when birds of prey migrate North or South.  One one of these migration events,  we happened upon a wedding at the top of the mountain.  I wish I was able to track down the bride and groom afterwards because I would have gladly shared the photographs that I took of them.

The top of Pack Monadnock also features a parking lot and some radio and cellular tower structures that we sat below for breakfast before walking down to the parking lot where our two temporary hiking partners left us to the rest of the hike.

The next section was a long, fairly even stretch through Temple Mnt and Burton Peak, neither of which are as significant as Pack Monadnock and gave us fairly flat, easy walking.  If it hadn't been for the temperatures in the 80's we would have found this fairly pleasant. Despite the heat we did get some relief from a breeze that sprang up every now and again as we came to the higher ground. As with most of the trail the walking was in the woods with lush leaves and featured some very interesting rock walls from some time back in the day when farmers cared enough to partition their land off with manually built rock walls.

Another feature of this trail (and Mnt Monadnock) are some beautifully built cairns, evidence of the care that some people put into trail maintenance.

The trail crosses two roads after Burton, the end of a 7-mile even stretch of walking and bringing up the half-way mark.

Hiking from North to South has the advantage of putting the highest peaks at the begining of the hike, but also gives you a long, almost 2 mile stretch after half-way that is more or less all steadily uphill.  This comes soon after walking through the Windblown cross-country skiing area over Barret mountain and through some beautiful sections of knee high ferns growing in amongst the trees.

Near the top of this hill are a few shelters that you can pay to stay in if you do the hike over a couple of days.  The shelters are lean to's like those found on the Appalachian trail with a very well equipped outhouse with an old western saloon door entrance.

Photo credit:  John Poltrack
A friend and colleague of mine hiked this section the day before we did the end-to-end and wrote about it - including this picture of the outhouse which I should have (but didn't) photograph.

This part of the hike was the toughest for me.  I try on the uphill sections to find the pace that suits me best - pushing just hard enough to be on the edge of what my fitness can sustain but not hard enough to force me to stop.

While I was able to sustain a reasonable pace, it was with some relief that we stopped near the shelter for a 5min break.

We knew before leaving that our water would not hold out for the whole trip and I brought a couple of energy drinks which I drank after lunch.  There is a fairly delicate balance between hydration and having enough food in you to keep your energy up.  I found on two occasions on this hike that I had to stop and get some of the mixed nuts out to stave off the slight dizziness that comes with low blood sugar.  This was one of them.

After Barrett there is another long level stretch before reaching New Ipswich and Pratt, two peaks really close to one another - Pratt sticks out behind New Ipswich looking somewhat intimidating, but after the 4000footers and the hikes up Mnt Monadnock the peak was reached a lot quicker than expected.  From here a good view of Mnt Monadnock in the distance.

The woods all around new England show evidence of the destructive power of winds.  I am always amazed at the stretches on these hikes where we see a clump of trees in a line all taken down by some strong wind.  In this case, a tree that was snapped like a twig and left with a large trunk suspended precariously above the ground.

The last peak was Watatic which, under ordinary circumstances would be an easy hike.  

I forced a stop on the way down Pratt because I realized that I was getting pretty low on energy.  Some chewy candy, mixed nuts and one of those small energy drinks had me more or less on an even keel again, but by now my feet were feeling pretty ragged from all the trudging.  Bruce had some ibuprofen handy at lunchtime which persuaded me to keep a bottle in my pack for future hikes.  It takes a couple of days for the swelling in my feet to recede after these hikes.

At the bottom of Pratt we were able to pump some water from a spring to replenish our water.  John had run out of water as we came over Pratt and the icy water was a great boost for the last stretch - a fairly long hike on pretty flat ground to the modest Watatic peak.  This part of the trail comes close to Rt 119 in MA and there is a junction that points to a path that would have brought us to Massachusetts.  Of course side trips were out of the question.
I don't usually take pictures of myself on these hikes, but I was pretty hot and tired at the top of Watatic and John in the background on the left was calling in for reinforcements.  

Angelika and Parker met us about 35min later with some ice cold water and beer at the bottom of the trail (we didn't all take the refreshments in that order).

The mosquitoes along this short stretch near the cars were working themselves into a frenzy so we hustled to the car to escape them.

We took 11.5hours to hike the 21 mile stretch.  We probably didn't take a step for every 3 feet - my guess is that we did 2 steps per yard when we were climbing - but if we had, that would have made 36960 steps over the 21 mile distance.  Our Presidential traverse is in a couple of week's time over a slightly shorter distance but with a great deal more elevation gain for each peak.

I'm looking forward to it.... (sigh)

(A slide show of these and more images here)


  1. Nice write up of our backyard trail. Good luck on the traverse, hope that it is dry and in the low seventies for that hike.

    1. Thanks John. I think if it is as warm as this was we are going to have a tough time of it.

  2. Nice write up Tim...I nominate you to be the group historian.