Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mnt Cabot

This hike up Mnt Cabot was to mark the last of the New Hampshire 4000ft summits for Bruce.  He turns 49 this year so he has the distinction having completed the 48 in his 48th year over a period of 18 months.

(image from John’s GPS with our trail in blue)

Doing them all in 18months is fairly impressive though we have heard of people who do variations of these like completing all of them in one season, or doing all of them in winter and if you can believe this: running through all of them in one go - the fastest on record being Tim Seaver who, in 2010 did them all over 3d15h50min.  I started (at the time with no list in mind) hiking in New Hampshire in 2007 with a couple of the 4000ft and have gradually increased the tempo but it could be 7 years from start to finish for me.

For Bruce’s last hike on the list we started as usual with me leading - a tradition that favors my overall slower pace particularly on the uphill.

Since I have been exercising more regularly in the gym I have become less concerned about how much I am slowing them down with this pace - though given how closely they follow me it is clear that it is still slower than they would ordinarily walk.

My big mission nowadays is to keep going at this pace - even over what felt like a pretty relentless hike.  It used to be that I’d stop fairly frequently for a breather, water or to take a photograph.  I still stop for photographs but now it is because I really want to take the picture and not because I am exhausted and am looking for an excuse to stop.

The Mnt Cabot trail starts with a relatively flat walk on easy ground across two streams before reaching what seemed to me to be a carefully crafted gradient that is constant forever.

Now, of course all hikes up mountains have this basic pattern (you’re going up a mountain after all) but in the case of Cabot, the gradient is not as steep or varied as some of the other 4000ft peaks we have done and because it is constant, it gets the burn in the calves going and pushes that heart rate and breathing up and then keeps it there for more than half of the hike.  This relentlessly constant gradient started more or less at the sign that announce the summit was 1.8mi ahead and kept it up till we reached the top.

The hiking guide has a time-to-hike calculation for average hikers - I think assuming fairly good physical fitness - and predicted that we would complete the entire hike in 6h50 so it was pleasing to see that we made it to the top in 2h45.  1 hour of this was easy hiking and the rest was on this seemingly endless constant gradient.

Near the top there is a fire hut that is open for hikers to sleep in.  There is no wood stove in there so probably not a good place to stop in winter and at noon when we got there there was a creepily large number of big blue flies on the inside windows of the cabin which would give me second thoughts about sleeping in there as well.

Off to the back of the cabin is one of the mountain “long drops” - these outhouses are some yards away from all campsites and cabins on these trails and I have gotten into the habit of always photographing them - some of which have spectacular views!  
I took a look at google to see if there were some good descriptions of long-drops only to learn that the favored origin of the name is New Zealand and Australia, but it is a common name in Africa too.  Funnily enough, Walmart claims to sell them but when you visit the link, the images are far removed from an outhouse…. I wonder if they come with delivery and installation?

A few feet higher than the cabin is a heavily marked open area that seems to be the summit, with the trail going downhill beyond it.  John insisted that this was not the summit but this downhill walk went on for long enough for Bruce to take a look at the GPS to confirm that we had not yet summited.  The summit was probably another 15min walk further up a slightly ligher gradient than below the cabin and we stopped to record the historic moment under the sign announcing the summit.

The hike down was not too bad, though as usual my legs and joints were feeling the aches of too many high steps.  I had been dismissive of hiking poles for the longest time, but I have to say that over the past several 4000ft climes they have repeatedly saved me from falls and twisted ankles (though the boots play a role there too).  I also find that I lean fairly heavily on them on the way down to save the aches in my knees which jar on every big down step.

Not too far below the cabin is a short trail to an impressive lookout across the valley and we stopped to take it in.

I claimed to be able to smell the beer that Bruce had brought along to celebrate and though the last rather flat section of the hike went on for a lot longer than I’d expected

it wasn’t long before we had the celebratory beers in our hands.

Somehow - after not paying too much attention to how many of them I’d completed, I now have a list and have marked off number 27.  Probably since Bruce is no longer going to be naming the next hike I’ll be slotting into a calendar that John and his wife have for their son who was one of my early hiking companions… it might be fitting for me to finish my 4000ft hikes with him who, at 6 was demonstrating a hiking tenacity that was admirable.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


It took 7 weeks for my Digital SLR to be repaired after I smashed it on a hike and I was ready with my new point and shoot camera for the next excursion - a hike along the Wildcat ridge in New Hampshire.

Wildcat is opposite the Pinkham Notch visitors’ center and is a very popular skiing destination for New Englanders.

There are a few variations to consider for doing the Wildcat range and after some discussion at our regular breakfast at Einstein Bros in Concord we settled on the “there-and-back” rather than taking two cars all the way to the trailhead.

Our regular companion and trail veteran, John, was stuck in the office for the day so the hard decisions about routes and other important choices were on Bruce’s shoulders - these peaks were to be his 46th and 47th of the 48 4000ft peaks in New Hampshire.

We decided to forgo the most direct start to the route which crosses the Ellis river near the Glen Ellis falls - described in at least one of the trail descriptions as “a difficult and often dangerous crossing”.  This decision was one I was happy to weigh in on given that starting a long hike wet and cold was not a big plus for me.  So we walked from the Pinkham Notch parking lot along a 0.9mi trail around the back of the Lost Pond and then up the beginning of the steep ascent.

The trail guides warn that this is not a hike to attempt in the rain and it became obvious after the initial steep and somewhat rocky section what this meant.

The trail exits onto a large round rock which offers a spectacular view of the valley, road and Mnt Washington after not too great a distance.  After that the trail has some slabby sections which were a little gnarly going up.  In at least two of these sections there are large blocks of wood bolted onto the slab to give hikers a little better purchase on the rock.

We were to find these sections even more gnarly on the way down.

What astonished me was how good I felt going up.  I think I have mentioned before that I usually lead the way because I am slower than my two hiking companions but for this hike I really felt fairly comfortable going up the steep ascent.  I was still huffing and panting and knew that my pace could not be faster without some dire consequence, but I wasn’t experiencing that long painful process of wondering when the top was going to come or whether I could keep going for much longer.

Indeed when we did top out on the first peak I was feeling pretty good.

The 4000ft rulebook says that in order for 4000ft peaks to count you have to have a certain minimum elevation loss and gain between the peaks, so although the Wilcat range has 5 distinct peaks in it, only the outer two count towards the 48.  This first one, coming from the Ellis River side is just over 4000ft and as you top out you hear the sound of a ski-lift in the small valley below the peak.

We were met by the sight of several tourists who had paid the $13 to get a ride up to this spaceship-like lift with enclosed cable cars.  They were happily taking photos of each other with Mnt Washington in the background.

Not long after we stopped, one of the cars emptied out 3 people with hiking packs on them - two of whom had the long beards of through-hikers (the third was a woman so no beard).  Bruce said to them as they stepped off “Hey, I didn’t see that trail in the trail guide.” to which one of them responded (glancing back at the signs advertising the ski-trails),  ”Wait, you mean “Top Cat” isn’t in there?”

The Appalachian Trail through-hikers often look pretty shell shocked when they come through the White Mountains.  They are almost done on the 2186mile trail from Georgia to Mnt Kathadin in Maine but the White Mountains and Maine are the most strenuous of the trail.  In New Hampshire the AT and covers 17 of the 48 4000ft peaks in its 161 mi stretch.

I didn’t realize until I read it in the Wikipedia article that there are names given for hikers who mix some hitch-hiking and side trips to make the trip easier and I suppose these were from this camp.  They had left Georgia in March and have another two months to get to the end.  After October 15th Mnt Kathadin is a lot more likely to be closed for bad weather.

We met all told, about 6 through-hikers on this trip, some less communicative (though all were friendly) than others.

It took about an hour to walk along the ridge to the far end of the 5th peak (Wildcat “A”), which is at 4422ft and I found the first ascent after the break at the ski-lift a little more tiring than I was willing to admit at the time.

The descent was strangely difficult.  Part of this was to do with the steep rock slabs which, though not as long and potentially as dangerous as the Tripyramids slide, were challenging and clearly would be treacherous in rain.

The other thing about the descent that seemed strange was how long it took.  Though in actual measured minutes the hike down was the same time as the hike up had been (a good rule of thumb to use in any case), it felt like three times the length of the uphill by the time we were near the bottom.

The total hike covered 8.95mi and took us 9 hours to complete.

You can view a slideshow of all the photos from this trip here.

As John will say after completing a hike:  ”We cheated death once again!”

Friday, July 27, 2012

How many of me?

There is person with my name in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Point and Shoot

I mentioned recently that I smashed the back of my camera during a hike.

For a few years now I have insisted on taking my camera with me on these hikes and lugging large lenses along with them.

The price you pay is some bruising over a few days if you can’t find a way to secure the camera properly - and if you do, it is usually hard to reach and therefore not used enough.  The other price is that if you do use it, you could fall and smash it.

So after this latest catastrophe I decided that it was time to invest in a point and shoot camera to take along.

I did a little research before I picked the camera - first looking to see what professional photographers considered a good carry around point and shoot.  The Nikon and Canon variations on the point and shoot are prominently mentioned there along with the attributes of a good point and shoot from professional’s point of view.

I also remembered reading about a camera that Casio made that has a rather cool gimmick in that it can record low res film at 1000 frames per second.

So, considering that 90% of what I shoot on a hike is documentary and that I have always though high speed photography rather cool, I asked my wife to look into the Casio Exilim ZR100 as a birthday present for me.

Well it arrived yesterday and I have spent some time between meetings and over lunch playing with it.

High speed video is a gimmick but a lot of fun.  The camera can’t autofocus or change focus in video mode and the resolution for the high speed video is not good but I really had a lot of fun playing with it.

Some of the photographic features that are really cool include built in HDR processing both as in “artistic mode” and in more or less realistic mode.

HDR Realistic

HDR Artistic

And no HDR but with the camera’s fill-in flash

The next feature that was worth some experimenting was a built in panorama feature.  Since the camera is built around high speed it can do things like take 30frames in a second (of stills) so in the panorama mode you can set the direction (portrait or landscape orientation) and then move the camera in a sweeping motion and just hold the shutter down.  The camera sounds like an old time movie camera with these rapid-fire clicks.

Here is a panorama in landscape mode:

and the same scene in portrait mode

and yes, our living room is this cluttered.

The camera also has a good close macro function and since I had some trouble holding it still for the macro shot this in burst mode and ended up with 30 images of the same thing from which I could choose the sharpest.

…and finally some blurry but very satisfying video with some music courtesy of

Exilim Games from tbouwer on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day #11


There is a slideshow of all the images below in a Picasa Album.

We arrived in the USA on Feb 2001 so this is the 11th Independence day that we have celebrated here.  Our first was in Boston - sitting somewhat bewildered on the edge of Storrow Drive with no view of the stage or the fireworks with the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing invisibly.  What amazed me then (and still does today) was the calm family friendliness of this public event.  No drunken louts, no threatening exchanges, just good (albeit heavily crowded) fun.
Since 2004 when we moved to the district that we now live in, we have been going to the fireworks display every alternate year on the night of the 3rd and the town parade every morning of the 4th.  For the past three years we have been invited to a lavish breakfast hosted by the parents of a good friend of our boys.

This morning it was pouring with rain when wewoke at 7am and the forecast promised more rain until 1pm followed by thunderstorms in the afternoon.  So it was a relief when we got to the breakfast to see that the rain was easing and the clouds lifting.  A humid day for a parade to be sure but with everyone in high spirits, the first antique cars were greeted with great enthusiasm.

The town Parade in Manchester has a formula that it follows each year, I haven’t got it completely figured out because it is usually led by veterans of foreign wars and some military banners but this morning the old cars came by a good few minutes before the soldiers.  These are followed by fire engines of all ages and sizes including one that had Smokey the Bear in it.  It gave us an opportunity to see two American icons meet.

The townspeople get to see and greet their firefighters and those of neighboring towns.  The firetrucks are fascinating to little boys but they have incredibly loud sirens and not everyone can manage the blaring and squawking as they pass.

Many of the people riding in the trucks and decorated floats of the parade carry bags of candy and beads that they throw onto the side of the road for the children standing on either side.

Today, after the firetrucks came the veterans and military banners.

America has voluntary service and the population are very respectful of the sacrifice that young adults make when they join the military so it is common for sections of the parade crowd to applaude as these men and women come by.
The town arranges for several marching bands to join in - this year there were two Highland Pipe bands, but in previous year there have been one or more of the elaborately clothed and colorful college marching bands that have several rows of members of the drum line and many brass instruments.

Some of the themed floats in the parade are good fun to watch as well.  There is a smaller parade on the day before July 4th called the Horribles Parade which usually has themes that poke fun at recent news stories or figures in the community.  This year two floats delivered commentary on the ongoing war between people who walk dogs on the beaches and those that want to ban the activity.  Dogs are not allowed on the beaches between May and September in any case, but there is a lobby that wants to make it all year round on the most popular beach in the area.  So this year the Nature Conservancy float had a poster that said “Open to dogs all year round” and there was a separate float made up of people in dog outfits with a parody of the protests - some signs advocating that humans should not be allowed on the beaches and that dogs should be sure to pick up after their humans.

My favorite part of the parade are the militia in period costume.  The Minutemen who occasionally stop to fire their front-loading muskets.  This year I didn’t have to run after them to get a photo of them firing.

The characters in these groups of militia are usually pretty colorful.

and make for good pictures.

The old bicycles followed the militia and this was the first year that I had seen a small penny farthing ridden by a little boy.  These bicycles look pretty hard to ride and can’t be very comfortable.

The adult riders do get to stop a few times en route for some liquid refreshments.  Uncle Sam thinks of these things.

Another feature of the parade is town school teams that did particularly well.  They get to sit on the bed of a truck and wave to people lining the sidewalks.  Since it is pretty hot on these days some of the parents prepare water filled balloons and water pistols to help cool them down.  Here some of the local town team prepare to be soaked from above.

America is incredibly diverse and there are often parade participants from the West Indies, South America and any of the many European countries that have been the origin of American immigrants.  This year we had some Spanish entertainment in the parade as well.

Another great small town parade.

Happy 4th!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pemi Loop revisited

(You can see a full screen slideshow of these images and more here)

The Owl’s Head peak in New Hampshire is often the last or near to last of the 48 peaks over 4000ft that people do because it is such a pain to get to.  The there-and-back trip to this peak is around 20 miles from Lincoln Woods and although the trail is pretty flat (except for the mile long climb up the peak) it is a long way to go for a day hike.

My two hiking friends and I (one of them very close to finishing his 48) were scheduled to climb this peak from the opposite direction on the third day of this second Pemi Loop trip (as if I didn’t have enough punishment last year).

I wrote about this trip last year - a grueling 30 mile hike across Franconia Ridge and then over Lafayette, Garfield, Twin, and the Bonds which added 10 4000 foot mountains to my list.  This year we decided to revisit these again to knock off most of Bruce’s last summits (he has 3 left after this trip).

John’s itinerary had the order reversed - starting at Bond Cliff which turned out to be a stiff hike after the long walk-in from the Lincoln Woods parking lot.  Just like the cooking instructions on the packaging of the instant meals, I should have paid more attention to the trip route beforehand because it turned out to be a longer hike than the one we did last year by almost a quarter.  My instant breakfast included instructions to fry it in a pan after soaking in water!  No pans for miles around when I read that!

We were pretty fresh starting out and the long level path had us hiking at a pretty good pace until the real climbing began.  Although not the steepest of the peaks around here, the walk up to the cliffs is quite strenuous and although I have been feeling fitter with the more regular visits to the gym, I lagged behind and was completely blown by the time we reached the top.

I had this idea of bagels for food (well for lunch).  John had said that they travel well and are pretty bulky without being too heavy but I had not counted on how they would sit like a brick in my stomach.  The short lunch stop on Bond Cliff ended up with me abandoning the bagel after only eating about a quarter of it and I got up a few minutes later feeling distinctly uncomfortable.  Unfortunately all my lunches were supposed to be bagel so this first day’s experience sort of ruined the prospect of the other day’s lunches too.

Not long after lunch I started to feel a little dizzy and was battling to keep my food down.  I suspect that the bagel was almost a blockage and the over-exertion on the way up Bond Cliff had made digestion a little more of a problem than it would ordinarily be.

I decided to plod on, hoping that it would clear up on the walk up to Bond proper.  The path is visible all along the way and a pretty steep climb so when I got up to Bond, feeling no better I was relieved to take a slightly longer break than we had on Bond Cliff…. in fact, my hiking companions had seen how miserable I looked and cut me a break (which I think resulted in a cat nap for all of us).

Bruce had some 5 hour energy drink (he would miss the one he gave me on the last day of the hike) which also helped - though keeping even this down proved to be a challenge as we moved on to the next leg of the first day, which took us up a side trip to West Bond.

I have always turned down the baffling offers to do “side trips” on hikes.  They are baffling to me in the same way that zero caffeine drinks are - if you are hiking a mountain why would you want to walk more for a side trip?  The logic doesn’t work as well sitting comfortably in a chair but on a hike the prospect of stopping and adding miles and time to your walk hasn’t filled me with enthusiasm before.

Side trips from tbouwer on Vimeo.

This time though we were on a mission to bag some peaks that we would have lots of walking to have to repeat so the side trips (South Bond on day one and Zealand , North Twin and Galehead on day 2) were just part of the plan.

What a pleasure to drop the pack and hike these peaks with nothing but the hiking poles and a half-empty water bottle!

At the end of the day we were at the Guyot campsite - time to test my new shelter, a Hennessey Hammock.

What a great addition to the backpacking equipment!  It weighs just over a pound and offers a very comfortable sleep - though you’d think with my climbing background I’d know how to tie a knot that didn’t have my hammock collapse on the first test!  I slept very comfortably in the hammock on both nights!

The second day was less tough than I expected.  We had a 3 side trips and a stop at the Galehead hut which is an AMC run hut where you can get some really nice curry vegetable soup and cold lemonade. The side-trip from here to Galehead (a very short .5 mile walk) mountain resulted in a slip on a rock in which I smashed the LCD screen of my Canon 7D.  I was lucky with the poles on this trip - I think I twisted my ankle 3 times and slipped or fell about 5.  Each time the poles were able to catch me and support me enough to avoid any serious injury - my camera not so lucky.

We had met a woman a couple of times during the day who was up there working with some training groups who were teaching young outdoor leaders.  Her job was to simulate an injured hiker in role play and then help to instruct the group on what to do.

Actually I enjoy meeting people up in the hills - we met 3 hikers on the walk in from the car park who were doing the loop too but in the opposite direction.  We came across them again on the second day as we were walking along to the Twin peaks.  Down at the hut we met a guy who was celebrating his 50th birthday with his younger brother by hiking in the Whites - he was from Cincinnati and his brother from Florida.  Unfortunately his brother had injured his knee and now, on the fourth day of the hike was really in pain and trying to figure out how to get back to a car from this deeply nested hut in the White Mountains.

A man and his daughter also doing roughly the same hike as we were came by either on the way to or from the side trips and had friendly words of us on each time.

Our second night was at 13 Falls and has flat areas set aside for tents.  I chose too thin a tree for my hammock on the first try and caused some hilarity when I sat in the hammock and the tree bent over and lowered me down to the ground.  Tying the hammock I can see is one of those things I am going to have to work on.

This site is close to a stream that has some pretty decent rock pools in it and looks like a great destination for a family weekend.  It occurred to me that night that a better way to do Owl’s Head than the 20 mile walk in and back might be to take the 10mile hike to 13 Falls on day one, then hike back on day 2 via Owl’s Head (13miles).  I was to learn on the next day that the walk from 13 Falls to Owl’s head is not really maintained and pretty washed out in many places.  We lost the trail several times - though finding it didn’t take us too far from where we lost it each time, but did cost us time on the last day.

The campsite has had problems with bears and so you are asked to cook and eat in “kitchen” which is a tarp over a couple of bear boxes (heavy metal trunks that you can put you food into).  I wondered it the biltong grease on my fingers would attract a bear to my hammock at night…. it didn’t.

Owl’s Head was quite an experience.  A gentle uphill from 13 Falls for about a mile or two and then almost flat walking for another 5miles before this steep hike (a mile there and a mile back) straight up the side of a scree slope (or slide as the call it in America).

The hike up was very strenuous and we were warned near the top by some hikers coming down that the true summit of Owls Head was actually further away that what seems to be the summit.  A cairn marks a flat area at the top that recently (2005) was identified as not being the true summit by some gear heads who went up there with altimeters and found the true summit about .2 miles from the original “top”.  Owls Head is not an officially supported trail but gets a reasonable amount of traffic because it is one of the 48.

The hike back to the car from there was tiring.  Around 5 more miles on pretty flat ground with two river crossings in the middle.  In both cases the water was wide enough to justify taking our shoes off and wading through (though John somehow managed to get across the first one by rock-hopping much to my amazement).

We got back to the car after what felt like an interminable distance and John and I stopped at the Common Man in Concord for a meal before I went home.

My feet are pretty swollen after the trip.  I suspect another day before I am feeling normal again.  The trip took us across 8 4000 ft peaks and 37miles of rough terrain so quite a sense of achievement on the back end of it.

I just checked (and not that I am counting) that this weekend was my 25th of the 48.