Peter and I have fallen in love with overnight running trips since we got our ultralight backpacking gear, and this past weekend we did our first 2-day run with significant mileage on both days (30 miles total). The trip was a really good test of our gear and helped us sort out what we like/don’t like and what to do differently in the future.
We started out on Friday afternoon with an 8-mile leg from the base of Sunapee Mountain to the shelter at the Moose Lookout. We parked our car at the base lodge at 5 p.m. and started up the mountain with our headlamps. Unfortunately for us, daylight savings time doesn’t save any of the time that actually matters to working people.
The 2.5 mile climb up Sunapee is very easy, but being loaded down more than usual, we hiked probably 3/4 of it. As we neared the top, we could hear the wind whipping! We didn’t stop on the exposed summit, but quickly headed down the access road to pick up the trail and head into the shelter of the woods again. From there we had a pleasant run up to the Solitude Lookout, down to the shores of Lake Solitude and then back up to traverse the length of the Sunapee ridgeline. This is a beautiful section to run in the daylight with lots of scenic vistas, but unfortunately it was all pitch dark for us this time. We enjoyed our run for the most part–along the ridgeline there are long exposed sections of smooth rock slabs and then wooded, non-technical terrain, so it was mostly easy and fun running. We did encounter one extended section that was very leafy with many hidden hazards, and I fell in a hole once, slid down a rock face another time and then soaked both my shoes in a mudpit! That was not fun.
Thankfully we made it to our shelter in one piece after about 2.5 hours. We cooked and ate a couple of delicious Mountain House freeze-dried dinners while trying not to get hypothermia! We were in a somewhat sheltered area, but it was a very windy night, and the temperature was dropping. As soon as we were done eating, we dove into our sleeping bags to stay warm! We’ve discovered that the only downfall to winter backpacking is that it’s too cold to do anything other than run or huddle in your bag.
We spent the night listening to the wind howl, and in the morning we woke up to snow!
It was hard to get out of our warm bags, and we weren’t looking forward to standing around in the cold for breakfast, so we “slept in” until about 7:30!
We enjoyed our hot breakfast of oatmeal and coffee!
The Steve Galpin shelter at Moose Lookout
We finally got going a little after 8, and set out for our long run–22 miles to Pitcher Mountain. There were a lot of pretty spots along the way:
As you can see, the scenery is gorgeous, even in November, and the trails are beautifully smooth and well-maintained.
We were joined by Jaime mid-day (she parked at Pitcher Mtn. and ran the route backwards to meet us), and then the three of us stopped for lunch in the small town of Washington. The trail runs right through the center of town and passes by a general store that serves hot breakfast and lunch items made to order. It’s definitely worth the stop!
This marked our halfway point for the day, and we think the second half is a little easier, but it’s hard to say. The northern section from Sunapee to Washington has the biggest climbs (Sunapee Mountain – 2,743′ and Lovewell Mountain – 2,473′), while the southern section from Washington to Pitcher Mtn. has four smaller summits (Oak Hill – 1,950′, Jackson Hill – 2.061′, Hubbard Hill – 1,896′ and Pitcher Mountain – 2,153′). There’s nothing too substantial, but it’s just enough to make you work.
Climbing Oak Hill
View from Oak Hill
View from Jackson Hill
The fire tower on Pitcher Mtn.
Looking back towards where we started: the long, low ridge in the middle is Sunapee
Looking ahead to where the trail ends on Mt. Monadnock
The fire tower is not manned every day, but because the fire danger was high (strong winds), there was a fire warden in the tower, and he invited us up and pointed out the various landmarks for us. I think he would have gladly talked all afternoon, but we were anxious to finish our run and head home. From the tower it’s only about half a mile down to the parking lot, and before we knew it we were done!
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The only time prior to this that we’ve run this trail was 3 years ago, and at that time we had no experience with mountain running. I remember thinking that the terrain was super technical with lots of LONG, tiring climbs. I remember being thoroughly exhausted and beat up at the end. And I wrote a ridiculously dramatic blog post about it afterwards. It’s funny how now, with lots of experience running in much more difficult settings, this trail now seems like a piece of cake. I can’t tell you how many times we said, “I remember this being so much harder!!” It just goes to show that the more you run the easier it becomes!