Redlining the White Mountains

Red Lining know you want one! Image retrieved from White Mountains Red-Lining.

There is a grand project afoot among New England’s most accomplished hikers; it is one that transcends lists, the short-term, and affords years of exploration and challenge. Among those few hikers is my friend, Bill Robichaud. After repeatedly climbing the same mountains, he left the most trodden trails and set out to accomplish something remarkable: To “redline” New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

The objective of redlining is to hike every bit of every trail on a particular map. The term is derived from using a red marker to indicate completed hikes. In Bill’s case, he has ambitiously chosen to redline the AMC’s White Mountain Guide, which features approximately 1,420 miles of trails. It’s a big deal.

I recently caught up with Bill to chat about his project, what it means, and all it entails.

Q: The idea to hike every mile of every mapped trail in the Whites—did it just come to you, or was it a nagging, sort of ongoing thought that you couldn’t suppress? Tell me about the moment when you committed to it.

Bill: After finishing the 4000-footers in New Hampshire, I felt stagnant, and needed another hiking game to play. Sometime in early 2013, I read about redlining, and upon finding and filling out the spreadsheet, saw that I had quite a bit of it done (~30%). There and then, I set myself a goal to get to 50% by the end of the year.

Q: Is yours a solo project, or do you invite friends to hike with you?

Bill: It’s definitely not a solo project, though I have done a fair amount of it alone. See what you’ve done… now I’m going to have to go back and see what I’ve done solo, and what I haven’t… thanks Justin! I’ve met a bunch of amazing people that are working toward the same goal, and have even managed to turn one staunch opponent of it into a redlining fool.

Bill, crushing it on top of Mt. Madison with his rime-covered EMS Fader Jacket

Q: You’re a big fan of EMS. What’s your favorite piece of gear for redlining?

Bill: My EMS Hyperion Jacket. It’s been my go-to piece of cold weather gear since I bought it. The jacket strikes the right balance between insulation and wind protection. When I get too warm going up hill, I can vent it quickly, while being protected from any wind that happens to be rolling through.

Q: Before this project, you spent your days on high peaks and rugged, steep trails. Now you’re all over the place. Has it at all changed your perspective of the White Mountains?

Bill: It sure has! Before, I thought of the White Mountains in the context of the 4000-footers, and found that it became very limiting. Once I started looking at the bigger picture, I came to realize just how much more there was out there. There are SO many beautiful areas that I would have completely neglected if not for redlining. Robert Frost wrote of taking the path less traveled, and it having made all the difference. To say that getting off of the popular trails and into new areas has made a huge impact would be a grievous understatement. I feel like I get to know the mountains better every time I’m out, and it becomes less like leaving home to go there, and more like going home.

Q: You’ve just finished a long day of hiking and the barkeep asks what you’ll have. Your answer?

Bill: Beer! Hiking burns a lot of calories, and beer replaces some of them. It’s also one very tasty reason to come out of the woods after a four-day backpack. Wintertime calls for stouts and porters, summertime calls for ales and pilsners, all the time calls for Belgians. I generally gravitate toward local offerings and microbrews as a whole.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Bill: The biggest challenge has been the short spur trails, ones that I may not have done when I was initially in an area. For instance, in June I hiked into the Pemigewasset Wilderness to pick up three sections of trail that were left hanging, the junctions of which I’d passed by numerous times. To hit the first new trail that day (the 0.2 mile Guyot Shelter Spur), I hiked 12 miles over the three peaks of the Bonds. The new trail mileage for that day was a whopping 2.9 miles, for 30 miles of hiking.

Q: That one unexpected surprise—the thing that really put a smile on your face and made it all worth it so far—what was it?

Bill: While there have been many unexpected surprises, but one really sticks out and reminds me to this day why I do what I do. In early January 2013 while working on my Winter 48, my friend Mike had organized a Meetup hike to Moosilauke. The rest of the group bailed, as there was rain forecast, but we stuck to the plan and redlined out Glencliff Trail. We did get rained on a bit, but it was never terrible. Reaching the socked in South Peak, we resigned ourselves to having no view from Moosilauke itself. But on our approach the sky brightened above us, and we popped out above the clouds, an undercast all around, the high peaks poking out like islands in the sea. This was my first experience with this phenomenon, and it was truly unforgettable.

Q: EMS has stores all over New England. Which one is yours? Do they know what you’re up to?

Bill: I usually frequent the store in Portland, though since I find myself in Conway so often, I’ll stop there too. When I come in to stock up for a backpacking trip, or pick up some random things, the employees will usually ask what I’m up to, as far as the trip I’m preparing for. They have no idea the true extent of my madness.

Q: Surely you envision the final mile. Do you already have in mind the last trail you’ll hike to complete your redline?

Bill: I have a few trails in mind, some easy with a good view at the end of it all, and others pure torment for all involved. Seriously though, I’d like to pick something that my parents will be able to join me on, it would mean a lot if they could be there for the finish.

A patch of False Hellebore (Indian Poke) along Haystack Notch Trail, 5/15/14
A patch of False Hellebore (Indian Poke) along Haystack Notch Trail, 5/15/14

Q: How long will this take you?

Bill: It’s taken a bit over four years to get this far, and I’ve only really been concentrating on it for the past two. I’m hoping to finish off the slightly less than 300 miles I have left in 2015, and am looking toward an Autumn finish.

Q: There are a lot of web-based resources for hikers these days. What’s your favorite?

Bill: Do I have to pick just one? I’ll give you a couple. — Aggregator of all things Northeast hiking related, trail conditions, road closures, weather, stream gauges, you name it. More features are being added all the time! — While TrailsNH pulls from this site, it’s a worthy resource in its own right. The archived reports are super helpful, especially in the winter and shoulder seasons, and for obscure trails. You might find a few reports of mine.”

Special Notes:

As of Sunday February 8, 2015, Bill has completed 81.5% of his redline, with only 266.6 miles left to go. He would have been a bit closer to his goal, but he slept late on Saturday.

Although Bill is redlining the White Mountains, he sort of isn’t—he’s using a black marker to indicate completed trails on his map. Go Bill.

If you’d like to continue the conversation with Bill, you can reach him through his blog. And show him some love by liking his Facebook page, On a Path With Heart.

Paddling the Concord River in Massachusetts

Thank you so much to reader, Jared, who after reading my last article of off-season paddling on Great Marsh, asked for some more trip ideas. This one should work for Jared and anyone else in New England who wants to extend the paddling season while enjoying some history in addition to natural wonder.

For many paddlers, this cool weather has marked the end of the boating season. It shouldn’t. New England is packed with awesome reaches on which to drop a boat well into winter. Most notably of these is the Concord River in Massachusetts – the sight of first battle of the American Revolution and the shot heard around the world. Flowing East just sixteen miles from Northwest Boston, the Concord offers late-season paddlers plenty of mellow water sheltered from wind by towering oaks, willows, and birch. The water is cold so you’ll definitely want to take extra care on your trip but the calm conditions and proximity to shore are such that a drysuit is not required but a good pair of paddling gloves is a VERY nice thing to have.

Approaching the Old North Bridge on the Concord River.

Trading traditional New England landscapes for a trip through history makes for some seriously awesome paddling this time of year. For a short trip upriver to the bridge made famous by Longfellow’s poem, Concord Hymn, put in from the public launch off Lowell Road. From there it’s a short, quarter-mile trip past bronze flood plains to the Old North Bridge, where Minute Men and British Soldiers first met in battle.

The Old North Bridge, with my canoe landed nearby.

Located in Minute Man National Park, Old North Bridge is a stunningly preserved/refurbished piece of history. Arching high over the water, to see it from a kayak or canoe is to enjoy a vantage not shared by thousands of others who visit the park each year. Making things even better, landing on either shore is permissible and offers quick, easy access to cross the bridge without the hassle of lines and a crowded parking lot.

A Farmer-Soldier, atop the votive stone at Minute Man National Park. The beginning of Longfellow’s Concord Hymn, “The Shot Heard Around the World.”

When you’re paddling the Concord River, you can extend the trip by traveling downriver a mile or so, under an old stone bridge and through Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. For such a suburban location, the quiet and solitude is surprising. Undeveloped shores lined with tall grasses, scraggly old trees, and leaning willows lead into the town of Carlisle and beyond to Little Meadow Conservation Area. With a current gentle enough to paddle against on the return trip, a trek downriver will provide a great day out on the water, enjoying some history and New England November beauty.

Paddling through Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, MA.



Hiking With Kids: The Rockery Loop Trail in Ipswich, MA

Mass Audubon sanctuaries are some my family’s favorite places to get outdoors. Of the several dozen parks spread throughout Massachusetts, the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield is our most treasured spot. It’s a special place, and one we visit regularly. Recently, my wife and I brought our boys there to explore one of their beloved outdoorsing spots: The Rockery Loop Trail. It was awesome.

Tucked inside Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary’s 2,000+ acres of diverse conservation land is a lollipop-shaped walking route that crosses meadows, wetlands, stands of birch and maple, and even a bustling pond. Making it perfect for hiking with kids, the trail showcases a fantastic “rock grotto,” that offers up some super kid-sized climbing and exploring.

Hiking with kids is great because they have a tendency to point out things you might otherwise miss–like how these tree branches grow between each other like a fishing net.
Hiking with kids is great because they have a tendency to point out things you might otherwise miss like how these tree branches grow between each other like a fishing net.

We started our trip at the park’s visitor’s center and made our way across an open meadow that was packed with stunningly bright Goldenrod. Still-green milkweed pods lined the mowed trail as dragonflies appeared and disappeared faster than we could point them out to our boys. It was absolutely beautiful and perfectly late-summer.

Nesting Season

From the meadow, we walked through a small stretch of hardwoods and under bright, golden green leaves – the kind that only a late summer’s afternoon sun can dish up. The kids ran happily (and loudly) down the stepped trail and out onto the boardwalk across the wetlands. I love boardwalk trails and this sanctuary has tons.

Pathway Water
Hiking with kids pretty much guarantees fun now…and peace and quiet later!

We stopped along the way to check out painted turtles, super friendly chickadees, and some of the hugest lily pads we had ever seen. There’s something about boardwalks that make walking fun for kids while drawing their attention to some of the smaller stuff they’d otherwise miss. Cattails and Purple Loosestrife were topics of discussion as we neared the loop and the rock grotto: an old arboretum filled with huge, scattered and stacked boulders, and exotic trees.

Rocky Trail

Along the shore of a large pond at the end of the trail, is one of the grandest spots I know of for kids to try their hands at scrambling up boulders and squeezing through small caves; that’s exactly what we did. Running through tunnels, up over boulders and down steep faces, we played the way young boys most enjoy. “Look at this!” and, “Wow! Check this out!” was likely heard a mile away as we climbed up and down every route we could find.


The climbing rocks and cave are perfect mid-loop attractions for hiking with kids while keeping their interest peaked. As we hadn’t visited that trail in nearly eight months, I was shocked to realize how much the boys have grown; they didn’t need my help climbing some of the taller rocks this time.


Leaving the rocks, (after some expert persuasion) we continued on the trail as it circled the pond, offering views of the grotto, sunlit patches of lilies filled with slowly bobbing turtles, and a wonderful stretch of boardwalk that overlooked the pond on one side and a beautiful sea of grasses and cattails on the other. The sun was warm and bright and reminded us that fall is indeed still a month away.

Rock Wall

As we passed the pond and back along the boardwalk toward the meadow near the trailhead, my wife and I were pleased to see the short trip was a success once again. We finished the trip with a snack at the onsite playground where the boys built ladders, made sculptures, and generally played in the inspiring natural-wood area before heading out. The kids had a blast, getting outside to explore and climb a perfectly kid-sized trail through a beautiful park along the Ipswich River. I recommend this trip to any family looking for something different to do this summer or fall. If you live within an hour of the park, the sun sets late enough well into October to make this an excellent after school destination for hiking with kids, bird watching or just enjoying the fresh air.

*To learn more about Mass Audubon, the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary or the Rockery Trail, visit their website here.


The Importance of Learning to Do What We're Already Doing

SPOILER ALERT! Reading this may only make your 2013 safer and way better!

Have you noticed our outdoor adventures are a bit insidious, or at least progressive? What started out as nice family walks have evolved into long hikes in the Whites. That quick paddle with a friend in their canoe has become paddling in your own kayak, a mile or two from help. This is what happens. It’s a great thing. But, when do we decide to seek training? In my opinion, everyone would have already benefited from training, even the ‘pros’ I see out there could use some more time learning from others. Actually, especially the ‘pros,’ but that’s a conversation for another day.

Outdoor schooling is surprisingly accessible and affordable. As popular as tearing around in New England has become, so has its related training, and for good reason. Many people consider themselves proficient in their chosen outdoor activity, but what’s their measure? Are they actually proficient, or have they just been lucky every time they hit the trail or waterway? Personally, I’d rather be professionally trained in what I’m doing, rather than just lucky or proficient.

Allow me, if you will, to illustrate a few examples of available courses that are out there for us. I think you’ll agree they all sound pretty awesome.

Building a Hypothermia Wrap in an Emergency Simulation.

How about First Aid? You may already know some of the basics, but would you REALLY be able to help in the back-country, far from cell reception and with the limited supplies in your pack? Does going out with your buddy really help, or are they perhaps an untrained liability to you? Consider a course in Wilderness First Aid. They’re wicked fun, mostly outdoors and provide a serious education in what the heck to do when something goes wrong. I invite you to check out my recent post about taking a WFA course, which was offered by SOLO.  It was a great time and I got to spend the entire weekend with friendly, like-minded people, who weren’t the macho gear heads I thought they’d be (I always hate that).

You can also consider some of the specialized courses and groups that are out there. Many are taught and led by true professionals and range in offerings from the very, very beginner to the advanced enthusiast. I recommend the following two:

A Sunrise Paddle on Lake Attitash


Maybe you’ve been paddling for years and you’ve never rolled your kayak. Good for you! Well, maybe not, rolling can be fun and you might be missing out. But, what would you do if you did accidentally roll one day? No big deal, right? You’d just get out and right yourself? Well, what if you rolled in moving water? Even if you figured it out, would your boat still be there for you? If so, would you be able to get back on it, or would it just roll around in the water, leaving you exhausted? Consider taking one of the paddling courses offered by EMS. They’d love to help you learn what to do. What could be better than spending the day with fellow paddlers who are also interested in being safe and having fun?

That’s Me, Climbing 3 Inches from the Ground. Don’t Worry, You Start Out Safe and Low!

Or, take a look at EMS Rock Climbing classes. In my experience, climbing classes are the ones that intimidates people the most. No you don’t need to be flush with experience to register. In fact, classes are the most popular method for people to try it in the first place. So why not give it a shot? It’s excellent exercise, it’s certainly something different to add to your spring and summer Facebook pics, plus it’s loads of fun!  Courses are offered for the super beginner, all the way to the those for advanced ice climbers. If you climb, or if you’d like to, I imagine they’ll be psyched to see your name pop up on the roster.

I could go on and on, sharing with you all the different types of classes that are out there, but I think you get the picture. Classes are a fun way to try something new, refresh techniques or training, or learn a little more about what you’re already doing.

There is also one more important thing I’d like to mention. I’ve been a professor for several years and there is some insight I’d like to share with you. First, please don’t be intimidated to take a class. You are not expected to know everything. In fact, it’s assumed you don’t. Second, almost everyone else is intimidated. Seriously. And finally, often times the people you think are the ‘best’, frequently aren’t. Don’t compare yourself to other people. That’s when we tend to get in trouble. Be proud of what you already do and know and take comfort in knowing you’re looking forward to a year of professional, fun instruction that will take your adventures well beyond what you thought possible.