Looking for Uncrowded Hiking Options: Consider Stream Exploration !

While many of us are frustrated that our favorite trailheads for hiking are overused right now,  fresh options are available.

There has been enough rain that has fallen that streams are swollen and flowing strongly.

Maine is a very wet state. It’s been said that walking here for a straight-line mile in any direction will lead to water of some type, be it a river, stream, pond, lake or at this time of year vernal pool. One of my favorite activities the time of year is to follow streams in my neighborhood to trace their source, as well as walk them until they reach the sea.

I invited my friend Craig to join me in one of these microadventures after a strong rain. We walked out of my driveway and only had to venture a few hundred feet down the road until a large culvert was underneath us, swollen with clear, cold rainwater that came down off the South face of Moody Mountain. We both had on boots and gloves as it was a bit cold. Up we went, beside and in a meandering stream that passed along ancient stone walls, bordered by a lichen and moss encrusted forest floor that was alive with color and textures.

Wild walking is often punctuated by a shocking amount of fallen trees. This was an area where the only other visitors are hunters who venture these parts during deer season. I really enjoy the problem-solving of how to advance uphill, as we weave our way from one side of the stream to the next, moving around fallen giants and avoid thickly grown shrubs that would tear our clothing if we pushed through them.

At one point the stream took a 90 degree right turn as it fell through a gap in an ancient stone wall after the stream ran the length of the wall for fifty or so feet on the uphill side.

It was uncanny that the crumbling wall held the water so tightly for that length.

As Craig and I went further up, the stream began to peter out as it exited a large bowl-shaped ravine that was covered with a thick mantle of decades-old decomposing deciduous leaves. We couldn’t see it, but we could hear it trickling underneath our boots. There was still higher ground above so we continued up. Eventually, we spotted small pools that punctuated the increasing elusive stream bed, as we reached the high point of the ridge. We walked across an old logging road and then there it was- an actual pool that I thought was the source of the stream.

I was wrong. Craig pointed up to a adjacent massive wild blueberry field that gradually continued uphill to a higher point above the forest. As we walked up to a ledge that was the viewpoint of the expanse of Penobscot Bay, Craig pointed to numerous small depressions filled with rainwater and said, “This blueberry field is the start of the stream!”

The source pool below us was likely filled by water seeping down from under the thin mantle of organic material that was itself atop the igneous granite bedrock, which served as an impermeable layer that funneled it to our tiny pond.

This kind of natural history analysis is a form of forest forensics, a term I picked up from the work of Tom Wessels, from his book, Reading the Forested Landscape.

Also, this stream exploration idea was not mine. It’s actually from a chapter in Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes.

Note: Be sure that you seek permission from landowners to pass through their properties if there is any question at all about possible trespass. And do wear tall rubber boots, as it is often easier to just walk right up a stream rather than stumble along through impassable thickets.

If you decide to explore the source or reach the mouth of a stream, post it up !

Happy microadventuring!

In my next post, I’ll explain how the hiker can use heat maps to seek out places where there is more dispersed social distancing.

State Parks Closing? How to journey around your home.

Hard times for sure. I’ve been out of work since March 16, with no pay until October at best. At least I can hike, but not everywhere.  My local Camden Hills State Park is still open to the public, but there are too many folks walking there for me to be comfortable now. Last Sunday the Stevens Corner lot there was full, with cars parked on both sides of the road like no one has ever seen before. A few days later the same scene appeared on the Barnestown Road parking area for the Georges Highland Path, where signs are posted prohibiting overflow parking on both sides of the road.

I listened to a public radio call-in show this week about accessing the outdoors in this COVID-19 world. I learned that as of Friday, March 27, the following Midcoast and Southern Maine coastal State Parks and beaches are closed due to overcrowding until April 8: Reid State Park, Popham Beach State Park, Fort Popham, Fort Baldwin, Kettle Cove State Park, Two Lights State Park, Crescent Beach State Park, Scarborough Beach State Park, Ferry Beach State Park, and Mackworth Island. (Note that the closure could be extended depending on the spread of the potentially deadly virus.) Read Full Press Release

Where have all these folks come from? Part of the glut is due to gyms, health clubs, and yoga studios being closed. It’s understandable that when these supports in our community are not accessible, people who have been in the habit of regular indoor exercise think, “I’ll go out to public exercise areas”.

I’ve had a head start on dealing with no gym.  I was a faithful gym rat for at least 30 consecutive years until I came back from my 2013 Continental Divide thru-hike. While completing one of these half year-long total immersion in nature deals is thought of as a grand mindfulness vacation where past traumas are resolved, in reality many of us have found it difficult to embrace our old ways and for some foks even those we love. For me, one session back on the treadmill was all it took for me to walk away from the YMCA and never return. It didn’t feel right to load up a bag of gear, drive 10 miles, look for a parking space, and breathe the stuffy stale inside. I was perennially plagued by fears of athlete’s foot in the shower area.  Nature reeled me back.

Since September 2014 I’ve exercised outdoors, year round-on bikes or hikes. It’s been going well. I’ve also permanently dropped 15 pounds over my gym days.

After logging hundreds of hikes in Camden Hills State Park as well as many steps on the Georges Highland Path I offer a suggestion to those who are looking for ways to move your body outdoors.

Pick up this book: Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes by Alastair Humphries.

Microadventures

From the dustcover-“What’s a microadventure? It’s close to home, cheap, simple, short, and 100% guaranteed to refresh your life. A microadventure takes the spirit of a big adventure and squeezes it into a day or even a few hours.”

I’ll lay out just one of the 38 microadventures that Humphries offers the reader:   “A Journey Around Your Home”.

The microadventure takes an hour or two hours to a few days and leaves the method of transport up to you. You basically make a circular route around your home, the length only limited by the amount of time you’d like to spend out there and away from it all.

It is a brilliant idea of imposing concentric circles around my house on a paper map. Here are a couple of examples, using my own home in Lincolnville.

This features Map Adventures’ Camden Hills Maine Hiking and Biking map
Here’s the same data but from a differently scaled topo map

You need to look at your map’s scale which is usually on the bottom on the map, near the compass declination image:

Then you decide if you want a tiny microadventure or a more robust one. Humphries has done all the calculations for you and has a little chart to assist the reader, but it’s quite a simple equation for your specific map: 2πr+ 2r = circumference (the symbol is pi).
For example, for a radius 1 mile from your house, you do this: (2 x 3.14)1 + 2(1) = 8.28 miles. You scribe a circle with a radius of 2.25 inches on your map and can see close to where you would walk. In reality, you are not walking in a pure circle, but zigzagging a bit on gravel and/or paved roads, snowmobile trails, woods roads, hiking paths, and can even throw in a little bushwhacking! It works out that for every mile added to your radius, your circumference is increased by 8 miles, so a   two mile radius would give you a 16.57 mile circumference , which translates to  long day hike or a moderate 1-2 hour bike ride.

Give it a go.  Let me know who decides to try this, please.   I suspect that even with an 8 mile route encircling your place,  you may go past places you’ve never seen before, or have never been to on foot.

I’m heading out on another Humphrey-inspired microadventure in 10 minutes and it involves water, lots of it.  Stay tuned and consider subscribing to this blog, which is now in its 12th year.

 

My Pandemic Practices

I’m reeling from the smashing of my old patterns and habits as we all try to adapt to this new socially distancing pandemic.

Morning Arrives !

Normally, this is the time of year when my professional school psychology services are at peak demand. That’s all done. All five of the schools where I work are closed until April 27, with hints mulling about that this school year may even be over. We’ll see. If that is the case, I’m out of a job until at least September. I’m a private contractor — I’m not on the payroll, so if I can’t work, I don’t make money. Also, other areas where I “work” are gone-book signings, workshops on backpacking, and guiding opportunities.

I’m still physically compromised, and restricted for any of my normal physical due to surgery on my wrist on 3/6. The stitches are out but I can’t yet increase the stress on my hand. I can’t prune my apple trees-I hope it won’t be too late when I’m finally able to do that. I also really riding my bikes, which I do year-round here in Maine.

At least I can hike. I’m buffered by the fact that I live in the country, and not a city dweller. Our rural house is on five acres and I also can go to our little camp in the neighboring town of Hope. It’s busy there in the summer, with nearly two dozen cottages, cottages, and even a couple of real houses there but right now, there is no one on either side of me or across the street, so I can isolate there as well as at the house.

I have permission from folks that live in the neighborhood to walk out my door and roam around on over a thousand acres. Years go by where I’ve never seen anyone but me hiking and biking out there. I feel safer outdoors than in.

Marcia and I have closed the door at the house to all visitors. I turn 70 in a couple of days. Marcia is not far behind me in age, plus her immune system is not 100%. We’re entrenching on the advice of the CDC which advises only essential trips (i..e hospital) for vulnerable populations.

I plan to practice is such the same routines that I’ve adopted for a while now. If you are looking to lay down some new routines and habits read Atomic Habits by James Clear.  It is the 11th most popular book on Amazon’s charts this week.  :

A) Continue to build and maintain a healthy immune system.
B) Reduce stressors. Stress impairs immunity. It doesn’t matter whether it is physical, or mental-emotional. Stress is a common and primary cause of poor immunity.
C) Meditation-I’ve practiced Transcendental Meditation daily for 50 years. I’m up to two 45 minute sessions-upon awakening and then before dinner. It’s the keystone habit of my life.
C) Targeting 7-9 hours a night of uninterrupted sleep. Educate yourself about sleep. I recommend reading the incredibly interesting book  Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

D) Daily exercise. I’ve been averaging  75-90 minutes a day of moderate hiking. It’s important not to overdo it. Too much, and/or too frequent exercise can impair the immune system too, due to stress. This leads to the next practice of…
E) Daily reading of heart rate variability, a scientifically validated measure of heart health and the need for recovery rather than over-stressing our physiology by using our bodies when we should be resting. I like DailyBeat from SweetWater Health.

F) Vitamin D supplementation. There’s conflicting evidence for the efficacy of vitamin pills but in my case, it’s all I have left. I’ve tried everything, including 12 hour-long, daily sun exposure of my bare arms and legs for 5 months at a time. The only thing that brought my vitamin D up to even the lower end of the normal range was experimenting with dosages including ingesting 50,000 units a week for months at a time. I’m now on a much lower daily dose.
G) Healthy eating, which means (for me) lower-carb, moderate protein, lots of veggies and modest levels of natural fats.
H) And now, I’m avoiding close contact with people, washing my hands every time I enter my house, and avoiding touching my eyes, nose and mouth after being exposed to others.

I) I’m learning how to set up Zoom meetings with my Monday Night Men’s Group. Seven of us have been meeting for 2.5 hours for over 30 years, which takes place over a meal that each of us prepares for the other men. We rotate the site at each other’s houses. We were able to get it rolling this past Monday, but are still trying to get in everyone on board. It’s hard to understand some of the expanded uses of technology, but the struggle to figure it out is OK with me.

We need each other right now, even though we can’t even sit around the table to do so.

Surgery #10 !

I had carpal tunnel surgery on my right wrist yesterday. I hoped to wait until May to have it done but the numbness, burning, and overall discomfort was severe enough that I scheduled it sooner. I’ve never regretted any of my previous surgeries, as every one of them improved my functioning.

I’m advised to back off normal use of my right hand for at least two weeks when the stitches come out.  I consult the I-Ching more lately.  Today’s hexagram put my approach to surgery and healing into crystal clear perspective.  Here’s a copy from today’s notes about what I learned from today’s reading: it has to do with reacting to situations where “obstructions have been cleared out”, which would be an auspicious match for carpal tunnel surgery!

At least there isn’t much snow left to shovel, driveway and walkway ice to chip, firewood to bring in, or even biking in the woods right now due to increasingly bright sunlight, moderating of below-freezing temperatures, and deep oozy mud as the upper crust of frozen water and crystallized snow melts out.

Rigger in The Bog

I recorded one of the lowest of my daily Heart Rate Variability readings from the past four years this morning.  Anesthesia plus physical trauma calls for parasympathetic recovery mode in all of us.

I’m treating my wrist with 20 minute cyces of an ice pack on and off this morning, and occasionally elevating my wrist while laying on the couch while catching up with my reading.

On the agenda for this coming recovery week will be organizing and preparing tax records, and preparing for the two 30 minute workshops I’m giving at Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockport, Maine on Sat. March 16.

My first topic will be “ The Lure of Long-Distance Adventures” where I’ll present some biographical info on noteworthy endurance backpackers connected to Maine and introduce some of my favorite longer hikes in New England and the Maritimes.

Me and Billy Goat in the Milinocket Hannaford’s a couple years ago

I’ll also be exploding the current contents of my 17 pound backpack (without food or water) for all to see in “What’s In a Thru-Hiker’s Pack and Why”. It could just as easily be subtitled Or Why No Spare Underwear!

In the meantime, I can fire up Strava and add in several hikes after Daylight Savings time is adjusted once again tomorrow, as the clocks Spring Ahead an hour!

What’s Up for 2020, Uncle Tom?

I’m all over it with presentations in the next four months:

Presentation title :9,000 Miles of Attitude: Aging and Endurance

From the ages of 57-63 Tom thru-hiked the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide National Scenic Trails. He is a Maine Guide and is currently writing a new book about mental and physical conditioning and extending one’s ability to fully engage in outdoor recreation activities. For the past 25 years, Tom has been singing and playing accordion in King Pirogi, a four piece polka band. He plans to hike and bike exactly 2,020 miles in the coming calendar year. Tom grew up on a dairy farm. In 2014 Tom was the 230th recipient to be awarded the Triple Crown of Hiking award from the American Long Distance Hiking Association after thru-hiking of three of the USA’s longest National Scenic Trails. His first book, “In the Path of Young Bulls: An Odyssey on America’s Continental Divide Trail” was published in 2017. After retiring as a psychologist and mental health counselor in 2002 Tom has been guiding individuals and groups on four season adventures in the Northeastern US. His current interest is inspiring others to engage in wilderness adventures at any age.

 

March 21 Maine Sport Outfitters : Rockport, Maine
Backpacking & Hiking Symposium 10-4      details will be posted when available

 

March 27 L.L. Bean,  Freeport, ME 7-9 PM
Book Talk “In the Path Of  Young Bulls: An Odyssey on America’s Continental Divide Trail”

Tom Jamrog, Maine Guide and Past President of the Maine Association of School Psychology, has over a half-century of experience exploring the outdoors.  In 2014 Tom was awarded the Triple Crown of Hiking award from the American Long Distance Hiking Association for his thru-hikes of the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide National Scenic Trails.
At the age of 63, Tom rose up out of retirement to assemble a team of 4 proven long distance backpackers who took on the daily  challenge of walking over 2,500 miles over a  5 month span on the Continental Divide Trail.  The book details the daily ups and down of life on the trail and also serves as a resource for section and long-distance hikers in planning their long distance adventures.

 

 

Trail Days: Damascus , VA Friday May 15- Sunday May 17

Attitudes, Actions and Apps: Lessons Learned from 9,000+ Backpacking Miles
Uncle Tom ( AT GA>ME, 2007) was awarded the Triple Crown of Hiking award in 2014. He published his first book “In the Path Of Young Bulls: An Odyssey on America’s Continental Divide Trail” in 2017. Tom will discuss his experiences and research from his upcoming book on endurance and essential training ( physical and mental) for long distance backpacking success. Topics will include gait analysis, pain management, recovery myths and facts, over- and under-hydration, and meditation.

Old Mill Conference Room, 215 Imboden St.
on Friday May 15 from 12:45-2:15 pm

You can also stop and chat with Tom at the Atlas (Guthook) Guides vendor booth, where he’s working for the weekend.

Saturday Morning presentation: Attitudes, Actions (and Apps) from 8,000 mile of Backpacking

Hosted by Maine Sport Outfitters, 115 Commercial Street, Rockport, ME 04856

Saturday Nov. 23,  10 AM- 12 PM

Tom Jamrog will discuss research from his forthcoming book on endurance related to essential psychological, physical, and mental training for long distance backpacking success.

Topics include:  evolutionary biology, Stoic techniques to buffer pain management, negative visualization, recovery science, heart rate variability, meditation, gait analysis, coffee as performance enhancement, compression socks, overhydration (hyponatremia) , optimal walking speed, and maybe more.

Tom  received the Triple Crown of Hiking award from the American Long Distance Hiking Association in 2014. In 2017 he published “In the Path of Young Bulls: An Odyssey on America’s Continental Divide Trail (CDT),” a daily account of his 2013 five-month continuous hike over the Rockies and the CDT.

Presentation starts at 10am followed by a Q&A session and book signing.

 

Tumbling Down from Debskoneag

If you ever find your self riding on the gravel Jo-Mary Road in northern Maine Hundred Mile Wilderness you can follow some tiny hand-lettered DLWC signs marking the varied intersections over the 24 mile drive from Route 11 just north of Brownville to the tiny dock where you unload your baggage and get shuttled by Leslie in a cedar and canvas motorboat over to one of the cabins in this 100+ year old settlement of log cabins on the shore of Fourth Debskoneag Lake.

Point Camp is Far Right

Marcia and I are here for the second year in a row, sharing Point Camp with our friends Ivan and Lynn for four nights. I’m a big fan of Maine’s historic sporting camps.
When Marcia and I were starting a young family, we started taking annual trips around Columbus Day weekend, we came to prefer enclosed heated cabins on this particular weekend after we were caught in a snowstorm where our only shelter was an open sided lean-to or a summer tents. We moved up the ladder of comfort in Baxter State Park when we began to use the heated bunkhouses that are so popular in the late fall and winter seasons.
Baxter’s bunkhouses are unusually insulated, and heated by wood stoves surrounded by wooden bunks on top of glossy grey wooden floors, and minimally appointed with a table, a few treasured chairs, and a coupe windows to provide some meager day time light.
Years later, I got back into annual winter backpacking excursions, usually on the first weekend in December, where summer destinations like the Bigelows and Tumbledown Mountain were made much more challenging due to the cold, ice and snow that had usually settled in by then.

Eventually Marcia and I began to send weekends Maine Sporting Camps, including The Birches in Rockwood, Chet’s in Jackman, Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, Nahmakanta Lake Wilderness Camps. You get to these places from our house in midcoast Maine by winding north through fading little settlements that lead to even the more sparsely settled backwoods until you leave the pavement to pay your fee to borrow time on logging roads.

Leslie was our host again this year, likely a true Amazon, who radiates capability in the outdoors. She hefted a cooler full of food onto her shoulder and then bound over the uneven, rock and root strewn path to deposit it at our front door.

Our Home Away from Home

The main room of this camp has a big Defiant wood stove with plenty of dry hardwood inside and out.

On our first day at camp, Ivan and I went for a 10.6 mile round trip hike over to Tumbledown Dick Falls (TDF, a stunning 70 foot waterfall that is located 0.6 miles off the Appalachian Trail.

We walked from the Camp all the way out to the where the AT crosses the gravel entrance road at the southern end of Nahmakanta Lake, where we met a couple of happy thru hikers who were aiming to be of top of Katahdin in just four more days. We hiked south on the AT for a mile where we hung a right to Tumbledown Dick Falls.

 

Turn Right

I’ve hiked the Hundred Mile Wilderness several times and before now, but until now have never had the energy or inclination to take in side trips when my going is usually focused on reaching and spending time near to or on Katahdin.
I used the Atlas Guide to navigate this section of the AT and was pleased to see that Guthook included the TDF side trail.

The Tumbledown Dick Falls trail was in great shape.

Someone had been though with a chain saw recently and cleared all existing blowdowns. The trail gradually ascends until the last twenty of a mile where it splits and you can choose the upper or lower falls.

We did both, enjoying our lunch as the board of the falls and the strong flow of the discharge from the initial pool was our soundtrack. Truthfully, the upper flatter stretches were more inviting to me  than the Falls.

Upper Falls Area

Several prime campsites were noticeable near to large pools of clear water, where visibility allowed us to see numerous small fish swimming about. This place would make a great overnight micro-adventure on some hot summer day.

On the return hike to camp, we detoured to take a long look up the length of Nahmakanta Lake.  It never fails to thrill and becon me back to The Hundred.

 

Three More New Hampshire 4,000 Footers Checked Off the List

I’m riding a wave of opportunities to get out and hike again. In the past couple of weeks I’ve made two overnight trips to the White Mountains to target the remaining four of New Hampshire’s forty-eight 4,000 footers. I’m combining forces with my very good friend and hiking enthusiast Tenzing, who lives in NH. Tenzing needs a few more summits than I do (7) but neither of us mind a few extra mountain hikes, so he’s doing a few repeats and so am I.
We haven’t hiked together for five years. A couple of weeks ago we had a very successful trial hike of 3,268’ Kearsarge North.
This week, I drove up to Silver Lake, NH to stay with my brother-in-law Cam, who put me up for a night so that I couldn’t have to drive up and back from a long day of hiking three more 4,000 footers: Mounts Tom( 4051’), Field (4350’) and Willey (4285’) in Crawford Notch.

map
We picked the best day of the summer so far to hike. I awoke to 47 degrees, and rendezvoused with Tenzing at Intervale. The cold temps quelled any lingering mosquitoes or black flies. The views from on high were much better than average, although there was some cloud cover up high. We spotted cars at two ends of our route and were hiking by 8 am.

Tenzing headed up

By 9:30 AM we had completed out first 2.5 miles, trudging upward at a very good rate of 2.1 mph. The summit of Mt. Tom was reached by 10:15 AM.

Tenzing Atop Mt. Tom

Tensing informed me that he had previously submitted Mounts Tom and Field on Sept. 18, 1994.

Number two 4,000 footer- Mt. Field

UT on Field

After short breaks for water and snacks, we meandered up and down the ridge to reach the summit of Mt. Willey at 12:30 PM.

And Willey is #3 today

From there is was a long, and often treacherous descent to a segment of the Appalachian Trail, down to the parking lot off the highway.

The views from an outcropping were rewarding today:

Tenzing viewing Mt. Washington and Webster cliffs

Tenzing posted this additional information on his Facebook page: “A piece of advice anyone wishing to climb Mt Willey:  try to avoid climbing and descending from/to the South. The trail is extremely steep, highly eroded, and the footing is frequently scree or loose gravel and very slippery!”

Heading Down

 

Me descending long sketchy ladder section -Photo by John Clark

Tenzing and I have another hiking trip planed to check off two more 4,000 voters on 9/10-9/11. Then a 3 day, 2 night hike overnight in October to complete Tenzing’s last 5 and my last 1.

September and October are my favorite months to hiked spend time in the New England woods. I’m fortunate to be able to hike tough stuff and to have friends like Tenzing that I can share my experiences with.

Firetowers East and West

About once a month I have experiences that can be described as surprising coherent.
This summer I have been devoting 2 hours each early weekday morning writing my second book. I learned a lot from publishing In the Path of Young Bulls already, which is closing in on a third printing. One of my lessons was that it takes frequent, regular, and focused work to crank a book about. I learned that at this stage of writing I am targeting amassing words on the page, ideas, angles, within an evolutionary process that is surprisingly interesting. Editing will come later, probably by a wood stove this winter if I can put in the time .
A couple of days ago,I picked up Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whelan, and Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades.

I’ve read it twice already and decided that I needed to re-read it for this new book. Luckily, I was able to head over to my local library and find the book in the stacks. The book is excellent, and harkens back to a time in my life when I was a teen and was just beginning to start backpacking in the New Hampshire’s Whites, which were a few hours drive from my house.
Today, I thought I was headed up to Mt. Waumbeck in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, one of New Hampshire’s 4,000 foot peaks. Instead I joined my old hiking pal Tenzing for a strong day of hiking up and down North Kearsarge, near North Conway, NH. Although it was not a 4,000 footer, Tenzing chose it as a practice run for some longer and more demanding hikes he and I will take through the end of September that will allow us both to finish up our individual 4,000’ lists.
Tenzing even printed out calendars for us to lock in our next three hiking adventures,

Much to my surprise, I discovered a very well preserved fire tower on the top of the 3,268 foot granite cone.

Originally built in 1909, the existing fire tower lookout was re-built by the the US Forest Service in 1951 and continued in operation until 1968, when the increased use of airplanes for fire detection replaced the need for lookouts.
What’s uncanny is that I’m sitting in bed here tonight at the White Mountain Hostel, and writing a blog post about today’s hike with a book by my side with a cover shot of a fire tower that is the same vintage as the one I entered at noontime today and enjoyed a brief respite from the rain squall and cold wind on top of Kearsarge North.

What are the chances?