Running with the Hayneses

Cape Cod Frozen Fat Ass 50K

This was the third year in a row that Peter and I have run the Cape Cod Frozen Fat Ass, and I’ve had a lot of people ask me why we keep going back to this race, especially after our near-death experience last year. I wasn’t exactly sure myself, but I had a lot of time to dwell on this question while I was running on Saturday, and I came up with an answer:

I love the unique challenge that extreme weather brings to the table.

Running 50 kilometers is hard. Running 50 kilometers in sand is REALLY hard. Running 50 kilomters in sand in a 40 mph sustained wind (!!!) when you are drenched, freezing, and getting pelted in the face by rain, sleet and sand is a test of the very outer edge of your physical and mental limits.

And there is nothing so distinctly satisfying as passing that test.

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Winter on Cape Cod is brutal, and the weather in January is almost guaranteed to be nasty. As this year’s race approached, sure enough, it was looking like we were going to have a repeat of last year with heavy rain and high winds. The only saving grace was that the temperature would be about 10 degrees higher than it was last time. Still, we knew we were going to be in for a tough race.

Saturday rolled around, and sure enough, it was pouring rain as we drove to the beach. Lovely morning for a race! We got all suited up in our waterproof jackets and hats and mittens, and then trudged out to brave the elements. As we walked down to the starting line, I overheard another runner remark that you don’t have to be having fun for it to be fun. I thought that was quite a good idea to keep in mind during a race like this.

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Two loops of this course = 50K

The course starts out on the beach and heads to the west. We started off with a stiff tailwind and, even though we were quickly getting soaked, everyone enjoyed chatting together during these first few miles of easy running. I focused on keeping a very relaxed pace at this point to save my legs for the latter stages of the race. The beach was fairly firm if you stayed in the wet sand, so no complaints there. At 2.5 miles we turned onto the creek trail which took us back in the direction we came from, and we got our first taste of just how unpleasant the rest of the race was going to be. We were now running into the wind, and even though the creek trail is fairly sheltered, the wind was strong enough to pelt our faces with rain and loud enough to make conversation impossible. After a mile this trail brought us back to the beach, and we retraced our steps to the start with the full force of the wind buffeting us head on. This stretch was tough going, and I clung to the hope that once we got off the beach and onto the marsh trail we’d have a break from the wind.

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Major flooding at the beginning of the marsh trail

When I got to the marsh trail, I thought for a second that I might be required to take a swim, but then I discovered a little path to the side that wound through the trees and came back out on the trail after the flooded section. Victory! And not only that, but thank goodness, I was finally out of the wind!!! It was still raining, and I was still running in loose sand, but it all seemed so much more manageable without the wind.

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For the most part the marsh trail is packed dirt or gravel, but there are extended portions in the loose sand of the dunes. The trick to running in sand it to run lightly. If you push off hard, the sand slides backwards and you don’t go anywhere.

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As I neared the end of the marsh trail, I was really looking forward to a nice, 5-mile stretch on the beach with a strong tailwind to make the running seem effortless again. However, when I climbed over that last sand dune and popped out on the beach, I found that the wind had shifted, and it was now coming at me head on again!! I thought that was pretty unfair, but I said to myself, “All right, if that’s how it’s going to be, I can take it!”

This stretch on the beach is always a challenge. It’s completely exposed to the elements. It’s hard to find a good middle ground between the rocky lower beach and the loose sand higher up. You can see for miles, but there’s nothing to see. It seems to take an eternity to cover those miles, and you have lots of time to think about all the reasons why you should drop out once you complete the first loop. But I was determined not to quit.

When I finally arrived back at the beach hut, I checked in with the race director, amid a host of drenched and frozen people who were dropping out, and they all asked, “Are you going back out?” Without hesitation I said, “Yes. I did it last year, and it was worse than this!” So I re-filled my hydration pack with Heed as quickly as I could and grabbed a donut to eat on the way out. As soon as I bit into it, I wished I had taken two because it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten! :)

After stopping for a few minutes, I was a little chilled and being back out in the wind and rain wasn’t helping matters any. I continued to plow upwind, with the rain, which was now occasionally mixed with sleet and sand, coming at me horizontally. I was completely alone on the beach now, with no one in sight ahead or behind. I made it to the turnaround and rejoiced to have the wind at my back again! I picked up my pace to take full advantage of the extra boost I was getting and make up for the slow miles on the beach. I was quite enjoying myself at this point and before I knew it I was back at the race headquarters and heading out onto the marsh trail again.

The marsh trail was also great, and in spite of it being more sheltered I often felt the wind at my back, pushing me along. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to fully enjoy the relative ease of this section because it was then that my physical limits started being tested. By mile 22 various muscles and tendons started protesting, so I took some Tylenol and told myself that pain is cyclical. By mile 24 my legs were telling me that they’d just about had enough, and I fought to keep a consistent pace. By mile 26 they were on the verge of cramping, so I took some Endurolytes, and kept the cramps at bay. At mile 27 I felt better and was mentally preparing for the final onslaught. I climbed up the sand dunes to get back onto the beach for the last time, and I was once again hit by the full force of the wind, which to my utter astonishment, was TWICE as strong as it had been before! I thought to myself, “Well, this is going to be a TREAT!”

I literally could barely crawl up and over that final sand dune, and once I was down on the beach I had to lean forward just to stay upright. It was mostly impossible to run in a straight line, and I felt like I was dragging a 50 lb. sled behind me. At times I had to run with one hand in front of my face to shield my eyes from the sand. It was unbelievable.

Up until this point I had been keeping an eye on my watch and trying to stay on pace to beat my time from last year. When I got to the beach, I had 50 minutes in which to do the final 4.5 miles in order to PR, and I thought it was a done deal. Until I stepped out into the wind. Even running as hard as I could, I was only managing 13 or 14-minute miles.

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Photo by Bob Jensen

It took an eternity to push through those final miles, but I turned off my mind and just ran. Eventually I could see the beach hut, and then I could see Bob, the RD, waiting on the edge of the beach to take a picture of my finish. I ran right by him, up the stairs, across the parking lot and right to the door of the hut. I finished in 5:48, which was 8 minutes slower than my time from last year. I didn’t care.

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Photo by Bob Jensen

I was the first woman and third overall finisher (Peter was second, beating me by only 10 minutes). And at a race where only the hardest of the hard core show up to begin with, I was one of only 10 finishers. Distinctly satisfying.

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Winter Backpacking on the Long Trail: Rt 9 to Rt 11

This is how it all began: Peter and I had two weeks off for Christmas vacation. A lot of the Christmas gifts we received were backpacking-related items (trail maps, dry bags, dehydrated meals, chocolate :) ). The weather during the whole month of December, and especially during the week of Christmas, was incredibly mild. So all these things conspired together to get us thinking about doing a serious backpacking trip on the Long Trail during our second week of vacation. “Serious” as in 6-days-straight-serious.

We had never done more than 2 days on the trail in a row before, and those were actually more like 1.5 days, so we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we like to go big. We figured it’s better to try and fail than to not try at all! Unfortunately, as we meticulously planned out our daily mileage and agonized over packing large amounts of food and gear, we also watched the weather forecast become increasingly dire. :( It looked like winter was finally going to hit New England right at the precise moment that we planned to step foot on the trail.

I’m sure most of you understand how hard it is to scrap your plans after you’ve put a lot of time and effort into your preparations, and Peter and I are kind of “do or die” people, so even though it looked like it was going to be cold, and a little snowy, we decided it was still worth a shot.

We set out early Monday morning with 3 days worth of food and a plan with my parents to meet us on Wednesday night with a large pizza :) and our re-supply box. We hoped to average 20 miles a day, but we had lower-mileage options if that proved to be too ambitious.

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It was still dark when we set out from the trailhead on Rt. 9 near Bennington, but within 15 minutes or so we were able to see without our headlamps. The morning was relatively balmy at around 30 degrees, and we were blissfully unaware of what lay in store for us.

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Our packs weighed 15 pounds when we started, at least half of which was our food and water. Aside from that we each carried a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, emergency blanket, down jacket, rain jacket, fleece pants and shirt (to sleep in), an extra pair of wool socks, microspikes, a headlamp and extra batteries. Between the two of us we split the items we could share: cooking kit, first aid/safety kit, toiletry kit, camera and cell phone. Our packs were heavy, but we were still able to run on the downhills!

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The first item on our agenda was the long, 10-mile climb up Glastenbury Mountain. It was very gradual, mostly easy hiking, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Glastenbury Wilderness.

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We learned early on that the Long Trail is very wet. Large portions of the trail are like walking along a creek bed. Bog bridges like this help in the worst areas, but we still ended up with soaking wet feet before very long.

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As we started nearing the top of Glastenbury (3,748 ft.), the temperature plummeted. From that point on we had trouble with our water bottles icing up and had to chip ice away from the opening whenever we refilled them. It eventually got to the point where all our bottles were halfway full of solid ice, and we  had to refill them often since they couldn’t hold as much liquid.

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On the top of Glastenbury we climbed the fire tower, and as we emerged above the tree line we were blasted by an icy, gale-force wind. The tower used to have windows, but all the glass has been removed, so there was no protection from the cold. We took a few pictures as quickly as possible and got out of there just before we froze solid! :)
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12465821_10100230694918744_9051023061885879451_oIt was as beautiful as it was cold. I wish we could have stayed to enjoy the views, but as it was it took a long time for my numb fingers to thaw back out.
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This is what the trail looked like on the north side of Glastenbury as we began our descent. Still more like a river than a trail, but now with a thin layer of ice on top. We did a lot of hopping from rock to rock and picking our way along the very edge of the trail.
We thought that as we made the 10-mile descent down the other side of Glastenbury that the temperature would gradually warm back up again, but this was not the case. A cold front had moved in, and as the afternoon progressed it just got colder and colder.
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The descent from Glastenbury was easy, but by the time we bottomed out we had 20 miles on our legs, and our muscles were pretty tired from the extra weight we’d been carrying all day. We had planned ahead of time to bypass the next climb up and over Stratton because there was an alternate route to the Stratton Pond Shelter that only 5 miles instead of 10 (not to mention flat instead of up and down a mountain!). However, when we got to the trailhead for the Stratton Pond Trail, we were dismayed to see a sign warning that the trail was impassable due to blowdowns and heavy flooding. We couldn’t bear the thought of 10 more miles at this point, so after some debate, we decided to at least scout out the trail for a ways and see how it looked. Soon we came to some bog bridges where we were able to see footprints in the frost–footprints in only one direction and coming toward us, so we knew that someone had walked all the way through and the trail must be passable. We decided to continue on, and though we saw several places where fallen trees had been cut up and moved, we never saw any flooding. Too bad the sign wasn’t removed when the trail was cleaned up!
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After 25 miles and 9 hours, we reached our shelter for the night at Stratton Pond. It was pretty luxurious, as far as shelters go, with a picnic table, benches, sleeping platforms and a loft! Unfortunately by this point the temp was in the low teens, and it was too cold to do anything other than hike hard or bundle up in your sleeping bag. We quickly went about our camp chores–Peter built a fire to try to warm up and dry our soaked and frozen footwear (with very little success), while I boiled some water to make our dinner. As soon as that was ready, I climbed into my sleeping bag at 6 pm to wait out the night. Peter stayed up for a couple of hours to tend to the fire, but unfortunately, even under his watchful care we had several casualties–2 of our 4 water bottles melted, my insoles melted and one of my socks burned. We decided that we aren’t doing anymore winter overnights until we perfect the art of drying our things by a campfire. :) Also, waterproof shoes and gaiters are a must!
I had texted my mom once we got to the shelter to let her know that we were safe and on schedule, and she immediately replied with a weather forecast. The area we were in was under a winter storm warning and instead of the 1-2 inches that were forecast when we left, it was now expected to be 5-7. In light of  that, as well as the severe cold and the lack of appropriate footwear for the conditions, we decided it would be safest to bail out early. We made arrangements with my parents for an emergency extraction the next day at the Rt. 11 trailhead south of Bromley (a little over 10 miles away).
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At 2:00 a.m. the storm hit, and we listened to howling winds and sleet pelting the roof for the rest of the night. In the morning we woke up to 5 inches of snow on the ground! We packed up and left without eating breakfast–too cold for luxuries like eating and drinking!
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We took a few quick pics at Stratton Pond because it was super beautiful in the snow, but after that I had frozen hands, and I didn’t take my camera out for the rest of the day cause we were in full-blown survival mode.
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It took us almost 5 hours to do the 10.5 miles in the snow, and it was utterly miserable. The sleet kept up the whole time, and the wind was FEROCIOUS. We weren’t able to carry any water in our bottles because it would freeze too fast, so we just drank out of every stream we crossed (thankfully you never lack for water on the Long Trail). Snow accumulated around the tops of our shoes and turned to ice, which we had to stop frequently to chip out. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were dangerously close to getting frostbite from this. We both had white spots on our heels when we finished, which later blistered like a burn. We learned that this is frostnip, and we were lucky we got out when we did! We have never been more glad to return to civilization, and we now have an even healthier respect for winter weather. It is beautiful, and terrible, and not to be trifled with.
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Looking back now, it was an incredible adventure, and I wish that we’d been equipped to stay out longer. If we’d had waterproof shoes and gaiters, I think we could have safely stayed out for all 6 days. And if we’d also had snowshoes, softshell pants, balaclavas, warmer hats and gloves and warmer sleeping bags, I think we could have been relatively comfortable as well. :) I don’t think we’ll be venturing back out this winter for anything more than a day hike, but at least now we know what winter backpacking is all about!

TARC Fells Winter Trail Ultra 2015

Last year was my first time running the TARC Fells Winter Ultra, and I was one of the lucky few to experience the race in all it’s glory. After running for over 7 hours in a chilly December rain on the decidedly treacherous, rocky ledges of the Skyline Trail, I’m not sure why I decided to come back again this year. :) I suppose it’s partly because there aren’t many races around here in the winter so I like to take advantage of the few we have, but also it’s because I love TARC races, which are more of a party than a race and are guaranteed to be a good time, even when the weather is miserable.

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Some of the party snacks :) Photo by Douglyss Giuliana

As it happens, this year’s race featured absolutely perfect weather, and we couldn’t have been a happier bunch of trail runners. The temps started in the high 30’s at 7:00 a.m. and promised to top out at 50 by mid-afternoon. Lots of people were wearing shorts, but for me it wasn’t quite warm enough for that! :)

The race course consists of an 8-mile loop repeated either 4 or 5 times, depending on which distance you enter. You also have the choice of running the loop either clockwise or counter-clockwise or whatever combination of the two you’d like. Last year I chose counter-clockwise and stuck with it all 4 laps. This year I did my first 3 laps in that direction and then decided to switch it up for my last lap and run clockwise. I didn’t think the terrain was any easier or harder to deal with going clockwise, but I did find that for some reason it was much easier to stay on course. The trail is marked with white blazes and at times is very difficult to follow. When I was running counter-clockwise, I had to slow my pace and constantly focus on looking for blazes, and I still managed to go off-course multiple times both years. When I ran clockwise, it seemed easier to spot the junctions and easily see which way the trail went without slowing down or stopping.

My first lap felt great, and I had lots of energy from the two cups of coffee I drank on the drive down. :) For the first half of the loop I had lots of people to follow, so navigating the course wasn’t an issue, and I focused on passing slower runners as we scrambled up and down the rocky ledges. This section of the course is the most difficult with lots of steep ups and downs and lots of pretty technical terrain–perfect for mountain goats like myself. :) By the time I came into the mid-way aid station for the first time, people had spread out, and I found myself alone for the first time. I stopped to grab some potato chips and then pressed on. Unfortunately, I missed a trail junction a short ways out but quickly realized my mistake and backtracked to the Skyline Trail. I had several moments of panic when I re-joined the trail and found myself behind a group of runners that I had passed quite a ways back. I was afraid that I had somehow looped back to an earlier section of the trail, but it turned out that they just weren’t as far behind me as I expected. The second half of the loop is easy to follow and much more runable, and I finished up my first loop without any further incident.

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Coming into the mid-way aid station for the first time. Photo by Jeff LeBlanc

My first split was 1:29, and after a brief stop at the aid station to drop off my gloves and ear warmer and grab a quick treat, I was on my way out for lap #2. I ran the first half of the second lap behind a girl that seemed about my speed and was helping me push the pace. When we got to the mid-way aid station, she ran right through, and without a second’s hesitation I followed, unwilling to let her go. Unfortunately, shortly after that she appeared to run out of steam, and I had to leave her behind. I didn’t run with anyone else for the rest of the race. :/ I finished my second lap in 1:35 and was really happy that so far I was staying consistent with my pace.

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Just after climbing a rocky ledge with my pacesetter. Photo by Douglass Giuliana

I took a couple of minutes after finishing my second lap to refill my hydration pack and graze at the aid station. My main source of fuel during races is always the sports drink Heed, but TARC races always offer an incredible variety of tasty treats, and I love to eat a little pick-me-up every time I go through. At this race I mostly enjoyed fresh raspberries and blueberries, chocolate-covered almonds and the ever-popular “Yeti Balls”. :)

I set out on my 3rd lap with no one in sight ahead or behind me. I still felt pretty good, but because I was alone I had a lot of trouble staying on the right trail, and I had to go a lot slower to keep one eye on the ground and one eye on the blazes. It was mentally exhausting. By the time I got to the mid-way station my legs were feeling tired, too. The second half of the loop went a lot better, but when I finally made it back to the beginning it had taken me 1:46 for my 3rd loop. I slowed my pace by about 10 minutes on that one, I think mostly due to navigating by myself, but also my legs were noticeably less than fresh. I decided to change my shoes from Altras to Hokas because in my fatigued state I was tripping and slipping all over the place, and I thought the sturdier Hokas might help.

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Third loop — Photo by Douglyss Giuliana

For my first three laps I had been sticking to the counter-clockwise direction because I was familiar with the trail going that direction, and I thought the quasi-familiarity made it easier to follow. As I started my 4th lap, I decided on a whim to run in the opposite direction. I needed a boost, and I figured it’d be fun to try something new, plus I’d get to see Jaime as she finished up her 3rd lap and that gave me something to look forward to.

I felt better as I started out–the change of shoes helped and since the easier terrain was at the beginning of the loop from this direction I was able to cruise along at a decent pace. I had a good couple of miles, and then my left IT band started sending me threatening messages, and I knew I was in for trouble. I pushed through, trying to maintain normal form and pace, but that soon became impossible. I limped into the mid-way station and begged for Tylenol. They didn’t have any, so I stretched a little and carried on. By this point it felt like my leg was being torn off with every step, but I hobbled my way up and down all those ledges one final time in a dreadfully slow fashion. When I came down the rock staircase at the end of the loop and saw the flat stretch that leads to the finish, I said out loud, “Oh, thank goodness!” and kicked myself into a lop-sided sprint for the last half mile.

I had been on pace to finish in 6:30, but in my reduced state I was happy with my time of 6:51. It was still half an hour faster than my time from last year, and it was good enough for 18th place overall and 3rd female. I think it’s safe to say that this race is going to be a yearly tradition from now on, so I guess it’s a good thing that there’s still room for improvement. :)

Overnight on the Sunapee-Monadnock Greenway

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!

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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!

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We enjoyed our hot breakfast of oatmeal and coffee!

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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:

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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. :)

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Climbing Oak Hill

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View from Oak Hill

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View from Jackson Hill

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The fire tower on Pitcher Mtn.

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Looking back towards where we started: the long, low ridge in the middle is Sunapee

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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!

The Long Trail (Rt 4 to Brandon Gap)

Despite living relatively close to the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the country, Peter and I had never even set foot on Vermont’s Long Trail until we used it to climb Mansfield, Abraham and Ellen on my birthday weekend. This barely scratched the surface of what the Long Trail has to offer, so when friends of ours from Massachusetts asked if we wanted to meet up with them for a section hike, we jumped at the chance. We met Russ and Niki at a race a couple of years ago and stayed in touch but have never done anything together, so we were excited to get to know them better and explore a new trail at the same time!

We met up at the Rt. 4 trailhead just west of Killington, left one car there and drove north to Brandon Gap on Rt. 73. The 20-mile section that we chose to do meanders through gaps and along the flanks of several Green Mountain summits, but never quite gains the ridgeline. As a bonus, this section is also relatively free of rocks and roots, so the easy footing and low elevation gain makes this section very runable. At least, it would have been if it weren’t for THE LEAVES!!!

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I don’t think I have ever run for such an extended time in leaves this deep! In most places they were piled up above my ankles, completely covering the rocks, roots and mud pits that could have been easily avoided if only we could see them! Instead of running, we found ourselves resorting to a sliding shuffle, which did nothing to prevent stubbed toes, but did somewhat protect against falling in a hole or twisting an ankle. The noise we made scuffing through the dry leaves was so loud that we had to yell at each other to carry on a conversation!

We also had a little difficulty following the trail at a couple of points where the leaves were the deepest and had to backtrack two or three times to where we last saw a blaze. Thankfully the trail is well-marked!

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 Is there a trail there????

For the most part our pace was pretty slow since we were trying not to maim ourselves, but we were occasionally treated to leaf-free areas where we could open up our strides a bit.

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We didn’t have really any open views along this section, but since the leaves were all on the trail instead of the trees, we could look across the valleys through the bare branches. The Chitten Reservoir was a prominent fixture for most of our run as we ran towards it and then around it.

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At one point Niki was quite a ways behind us, and we joked that we could look back across the reservoir and pick her out on the other side. :)

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One thing I like about the Long Trail from what we’ve seen is that it’s really well-maintained and has a lot of bridges, ladders, steps and other fun features.

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Large rocks make an easy stream crossing

Another cool thing is that there are shelters WITH toilets at regular intervals, and this little bit of “luxury” was much appreciated! :)

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Our favorite part of the trail was the very end as we descended off the side of the ridge through a beautiful open forest on a mostly smooth and clear trail.

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By the time we finished we had sore ankles and beat-up feet, but we loved our first long run on the Long Trail! Next we want to do an end-to-end thru-hike, but that will have to wait until next summer. :)

Thanks to Niki and Russ for getting us out there and spending the day with us! The only thing better than a new trail is new friends with which to share the trail. :)

Vermont’s Five 4,000 Footers in One Day

Last year on my birthday I did something that I had been wanting to do for a long time–I ran my age in miles. I thought I might make a tradition of that and try to do it every year, but this year it just wasn’t really resonating with me. I definitely wanted to get out in the woods and have a great adventure, but I didn’t really care so much about running a certain number of miles. What I did care about was where I ran those miles. It had to be mountains, preferably BIG mountains. :)

I didn’t have any ideas of where exactly I wanted to go though, so I looked around online for inspiration and stumbled across a blog post someone had written about summiting all five of Vermont’s 4,000 footers in two days. Before this I hadn’t even particularly realized that Vermont had any 4,000 footers, and I certainly hadn’t thought about climbing them. I read the blog and was hooked–I had found my adventure! I would make one slight change though and aim to do them all in one day instead of two. Because CHALLENGE! :)

The difficult part of doing all five in one day is not the mileage, though that is substantial at 29 miles, but the driving time. These mountains are not located within running distance of each other and most of them required an hour of driving between trailheads. As it is we have very limited daylight hours at the end of October, and these long drives would eat up a big chunk of our day.

To make the best use of our time, we decided to drive to our starting location on Friday afternoon and spend the night in the lodge on Mt. Mansfield so that we could get an early start the next morning.

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Fastpacks for our evening hike up to the shelter and hydration packs for running the next day.

We made the 3 hour drive north to the base of Mt. Mansfield (4,393′) after we got out of work on Friday and, after some difficulty finding the trailhead in the dark, we set off at 7:30 p.m. on the Long Trail South. From there it was just over 2 miles to the Taft Lodge, where we spent the night. In the morning we would do the remaining 2.6 up to the summit and then back down to our car.

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 Our new sleeping bags and mats–we each carried less than two lbs. total for our sleeping gear!

We recently bought some ultralight backpacking gear because we want to get into doing self-supported multi-day trips, and this was our first chance to really test out that gear. Everything worked great (reviews to come!), and we managed to stay warm enough even though the temperature was in the teens on Mt. Mansfield that night!

DSC01464 We cooked our own dinner and breakfast using our new stove and cooking set.

Unfortunately, we had to share the lodge with one other couple, and they both snored all. night. long. Next time, bring earplugs!! In the morning we got up at 5:30 so that we could be on the Mansfield summit in time to watch the sun rise.

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Our view from the lodge when we left

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On the summit–our timing was perfect!DSC01486

We stayed on the summit for awhile, taking picture and enjoying the sunrise, and then we remembered that we had four more mountains to climb that day, so we kicked ourselves into high gear.

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This is my favorite picture, taken on our way back down.

The top of Mt. Mansfield has some pretty rugged terrain, and we had to do some rock climbing over icy ledges near the summit.

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In fact, that whole trail basically thought it was a stream, and the water had frozen during the night, so we had to be very careful all the way down.

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Early morning sun streaming through the trees on the way down

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We stopped at the lodge to get a pic in the daylight. It was a great place to spend the night!

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View from the porch

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Modeling my new fastpack! I was able to run even while carrying all my overnight gear!

We got back to our car at the base of the mountain around 8:00 a.m., and from there we drove for a little over an hour to get to Camel’s Hump (4,081′). Our trail of choice here was the Burrows Trail (4.8 miles), and we started up it at about 9:15. There were a ton of other hikers at the trailhead getting ready to go, and it turned out to be a very busy day on Camel’s Hump! DSC01502

This trail was much easier and less treacherous than the one on Mansfield, and we pushed hard, running almost all the way to the top. In our haste, Peter tripped and smashed his knee on a rock. :( We had to walk for a bit then, but he was fine after that.

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Loved this open ridge section!

DSC01508The summit was cold and windy, but we had a GREAT view!

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We only stayed on this summit for a few minutes, and then it was full speed ahead! After a tiny bit of boulder scrambling to get down from the summit dome, we were able to run the entire way down.

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Nearing the base of the mountain, looking back at the Hump :)

We finished here at about 11:00 and had another hour-long drive to Lincoln Gap where we would snag two for the price of one. Mt. Abraham (4,006′) & Mt. Ellen (4,083′) are on the same ridgeline, so we could get to them both by taking the Long Trail North from Lincoln Gap. It would be 12.6 miles total, so a longer distance than our other peaks so far, but we would save some elevation gain (3,500 ft. for both combined compared to 2,300-2,800 ft. each for the other three).

When we got to the road up to Lincoln Gap, there was a barrier across half the road with a sign that said ROAD CLOSED. We took this to mean PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK, and we proceeded. :) When we got to the top we found that lots of other people had done the same because the parking lot was full!

The trailhead at Lincoln Gap is at 2,410′, so we didn’t have to do a ton of climbing to get the Mt. Abe summit (4,006′) from here. Peter said he kind of felt like we were cheating, but I told him that you can’t cheat when you’re the one making up the rules! :)

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The 2.6 mile stretch to the top of Mt. Abraham was a gradual ascent with relatively easy footing.

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The last few tenths of a mile were a vertical scramble. We found this to be typical of these peaks that are just barely above the treeline.

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On Mt. Abraham

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We would continue along that ridgeline behind us to get to Mt. Ellen.

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Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks behind us

The trail to Ellen was the easiest running we’d had all day–gentle, rolling ups and downs as we ran along the ridgeline and the summits of several smaller peaks.

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Typical terrain on the way to Mt. Ellen

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On the observation deck on Mt. Lincoln looking back at Abraham.

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Lincoln JUST missed out on being a 4,000 footer

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Fun cliff-side running

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An unheard of patch of completely smooth trail!

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Beautiful mossy woods

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Unfortunately, Ellen’s summit is a huge anticlimax as there is no view and no sign, just this bedraggled pile of rocks to mark the spot. 

We continued just past the summit to the clearing at the top of the ski area where we had a view and were able to confirm that we had indeed hit the summit. :)

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From there we turned around and headed back. It had taken us a little under 2 hours to get to Ellen, and we hoped to make it back in the same amount of time.

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Found this old sign on the way back

We got back to Lincoln Gap shortly before 4:00, and at this point we were starting to feel the effects of the day. We were tired, our knees were hurting, and we were STARVING!! We spent the next hour, as we drove to Killington, eating every speck of food that we had in the car! :)

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Driving down from Lincoln Gap

Our goal had been to get to our last peak, Killington (4,235′) by 5:00 so that we’d hopefully have time to get to the summit by sunset, and we had pushed ourselves just about as fast as we could go all day long in order to make that goal. We arrived at the Bucklin trailhead right at 5:00, and set off on final leg of 7.2 miles.

Our legs were pretty stiff when we got out of the car, but we loosened up quickly. The first couple of miles on the Bucklin Trail follow alongside a stream, and the trail is mostly flat and smooth. The easy terrain allowed us to make really good time even though we were tired and sore.

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After two miles, the trail gets down to business, and we started climbing more steeply. It was getting dark around this point, and we had to use our headlamps for the last little bit. As we approached the summit, we could hear the wind howling above us. Again, the last couple of tenths were a vertical scramble, and then we popped out above the treeline on the summit and into the full force of the wind!

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We got there just in time to get the very last glimpse of the sunset, and after a quick picture we immediately headed back for the shelter of the trees.

As we were running down the trail again, Peter was surprised by an owl as it took off from it’s perch and flew over his head. He yelled ahead to me, “Watch out!”, and I turned around just in time to see the owl flying right at me! And then, just like that it disappeared into the woods ahead of us without a sound.

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We booked it all the way down and made it to our car at 7:20, just barely squeaking in under our goal of 24 hours from start to finish (counting our overnight stay on Mt. Mansfield). My watch died during the day, but according to our maps, the mileage total is 29.2 miles, and the total elevation gain is 11,021 ft. Our time from start to finish breaks down to approximately 11 hours of running, 3.5 hours of driving and 9.5 hours in a shelter with random snoring strangers (which equates to zero hours of uninterrupted sleep). :) What I’m trying to indicate with these statistics (and I realize the message may not be coming through :) ) is that this was the absolute BEST birthday adventure ever!! Thank you to my hubb for celebrating with me in style!

White Mtns Weekend, Day 2: Wildcat Ridge and Carter Dome

For our second day in the Whites, we had originally planned to do the Wildcat-Carter-Moriah traverse, a 20-mile route over 6 of New Hampshire’s 4,000 footers. This would have been an ambitious undertaking even in good weather, and after being reduced to a snail’s pace in dangerous weather conditions the day before, we weren’t sure we should even attempt to do anything on Sunday. We spent our second night at the campground, after mopping up the inside of our very non-waterproof tent (grrr!), and the next day dawned frosty and cold, but clear and calm. After some debate, we decided to set off on a shorter out-and-back version of our traverse without any expectations and just play it by ear once we got out there. Peter had to return home due to prior commitments, so Jaime and I packed up our campsite and headed over to Wildcat on our own.

At the trailhead we asked another hiker for advice about the best route to hike in the snow, and he said he would avoid the Wildcat Ridge Trail, which has steep, exposed cliffs and ledges that could be icy, and instead hike up one of the ski trails and pick up the Ridge Trail at the top of the lift line. We gratefully set off for the ski area to start our run.

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We had a great view of Mount Washington as we hiked up the ski trail!

The snow guns were going full blast all around the summit, but the accumulated snow was hard enough that we didn’t post-hole. At the top of the lift we easily found the ridgeline trail and continued on our way.

Up on the top of the ridge there was about an inch of snow on the ground, but it was a dry snow that gave us traction on the rocks, and we didn’t have any trouble with our footing like we did the day before.

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Jaime and I really enjoyed the run along the ridge. It was easy going with fun bog bridges, little ups and downs, and beautiful scenery. The weather was good on the ridge, t00–cold, but not windy, and we were able to stay comfortably warm.

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Most of the ridge was very rocky like this, but they were step-like rocks that were mostly runable.

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View from the lookout on Wildcat A of Carter Dome with Carter Lake at it’s base.

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Jaime and I on Wildcat A

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View of the valley from Wildcat A

It was almost 4 miles to the top of Wildcat A, and we hadn’t really expected to even go that far, but we were having such a good time, and the weather and trail conditions were so good that we decided to continue on to the next peak, Carter Dome. We had a steep 1-mile descent to the shores of Carter Lake, and then another steep mile-long climb up to the summit.

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Carter Lake, looking up at Wildcat

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Climbing Carter Dome

When we got to the top of Carter Dome we were disappointed to find that there isn’t a view from the summit, and I was tempted to push on to the next peak. We were starting to get low on food and water though since we hadn’t really planned to stay out that long, so we did the sensible thing and turned around to head back.

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View of the Wildcat ridge from a lookout on Carter Dome

As we were making our way back along the ridgeline, the weather started to shift and the wind picked up. We were sheltered for the most part, but we were glad that we had turned back when we did.

Back on the slopes of the ski area, we made a quick descent into the valley again, enjoying spectacular views the entire way.

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We finished our second day in the Whites with 12.5 miles and were glad that we hadn’t given up just because the first day didn’t go according to plan. We learned that you have to be cautious, flexible and always have back-up plans when you run in the White Mountains, especially during the winter. And it is definitely winter in the Whites!