Three Crags for Early Spring Rock Climbing

With spring’s mild weather arriving early this year, it’s time to venture outside, and remember what it feels like to be on rock. If you’ve spent the winter pulling plastic or you’re simply excited to get outdoors, check out one of these excellent early-season climbing destinations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lincoln Woods, Rhode Island

Just minutes outside Providence sits Lincoln Woods State Park. Home to some of New England’s best bouldering, it’s a frequent first stop for many of the region’s climbers. Thanks to its southerly location, it’s rarely exposed to as brutal of a winter, often making the problems dry and climbable, while snow still buries other popular areas.

With various boulders scattered throughout, “The Woods” almost always has something to climb, no matter the conditions. In fact, it’s possible to do everything from chasing the sun to hiding from the wind or even avoiding an unexpected spring shower. Even better, because most of the park’s classic boulders are in close proximity, it’s easy to move between them in search of better conditions or a different grade. Just use the park’s loop road and a handful of well-developed climber paths.

In March and April, cool mornings and evenings provide the perfect temperatures for finding friction on the area’s granite boulders. Later, cool nights keep the bugs at bay. Further making The Woods a great early-season destination, the wide variety of problems, in terms of both style and grade, allows climbers to acquaint themselves with crimps, cracks, and slabs while gradually increasing the difficulty.

While bouldering might be the primary attraction here, Goat Rock has a small amount of top-roping. This roughly 30-foot tall cliff offers some easy slab climbing on its flank and some truly hard climbing on its steep, overhung face. If you are planning on top-roping here, either bring some trad gear or a long static line for anchor building, and beware of broken glass.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries, Massachusetts

Quincy Quarries is another fantastic early-season destination. Located just seconds from I-93 near Boston, it offers great single-pitch routes on solid granite, as well as a smattering of fun, moderate bouldering. And, just like Lincoln Woods, it is often dry and climbable well before the region’s other areas.

While the heartiest among us come here year round, the season really picks up in early March, when area climbers begin longing for “real rock.” During warm weeknights and weekends, you’ll often find locals sending the most popular routes on C Wall, K Wall, M Wall, and Knight Face. Most parties seem to top-rope a variety of routes during their sessions, moving around the crag from one easy-anchor setup to another. You’ll also encounter some solid trad climbing and even a few sport routes. Whichever style you choose, be forewarned. The grades are old-school, and the layers of graffiti covering the first 10 feet off the ground only make the routes harder.

As long as it’s sunny, the Quarries can deliver a great outing even on the coldest of spring days. The walls of Little Granite Railway Quarry, noted in the Boston Rocks guidebook as A-F walls, form a natural reflector oven, heating the surrounding area as much as 10 degrees above the ambient temperature. If you end up there on one of those days, definitely check out C Wall’s many top-ropeable routes.

Of course, because the Quarries is a multi-use urban park, the climbers tend to head elsewhere once areas to the north and west “open up.” But, this shouldn’t deter you from checking out the early-season scene. Moreover, once you’ve spent a day or two placing your feet on spray-painted nubbins, the friction everywhere else will feel fantastic.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pawtuckaway State Park, New Hampshire

Pawtuckaway State Park, or P-Way, in southern New Hampshire is best known for its bouldering. But, it’s also home to some fun top-roping and short-but-challenging trad climbing. Because of this, Pawtuckaway has become a popular destination. Generally, it’s the perfect place for getting in early-season pitches and problems while you wait for winter to leave and before the bugs arrive.

Top-ropers will want to visit P-Way’s Lower Slab for its selection of easy-to-set-up moderate climbs and the large open space at the bottom of the cliff. These factors also make this a popular area for large groups.

While the Lower Slab is ideal for rediscovering technique and working noodley winter arms back into shape, the Upper Cliff—located a short walk uphill—offers some stellar crack climbing that can either be top-roped or lead on traditional gear. Before you tape up, don your hand jammies, or go au naturel, however, be aware that what the cracks lack in height, they make up for in difficulty, and the ratings are old school.

Tim-P-Way

No trip to P-Way is complete without trying at least one of the area’s renowned boulder problems. A short walk from the cliffs, the Round Pond area receives a lot of sun, and is home to a diverse group of problems. Thus, it’s an ideal place to visit early in the season. Also a short walk from the cliffs, the Boulder Natural area is home to many of Pawtuckaway’s classic problems.

Don’t forget to visit Pawtuckaway’s Blair Woods bouldering area. Separate from most of P-Way’s other climbing areas, Blair Woods delivers a large amount of easily accessible and moderately rated problems without the crowds. Like everywhere else in Pawtuckaway, bring the bug spray just in case, and be prepared for the park’s skin-eating coarse granite.

What’s your favorite early season crag? Tell us about it in the comments!


New England's Top 3 Manmade Ice Crags

Anybody who’s slipped on black ice knows that it can form in the most unexpected places. When that ice starts to freeze vertically, we, as ice climbers, typically want to climb it. How that desire manifests is sometimes quite ironic, however. In the Northeast, you’re equally likely to find climbers swinging their way up a roadside culvert, an abandoned quarry, or the walls of an old railroad cut as you are an alpine classic, like Shoestring Gully.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Auburn Ice Canyon

When most people think of ice climbing, their minds turn to frozen waterfalls, alpine cliffs, and remote gullies. What they don’t think of is shopping plazas, busy roads, and concrete, much less Worcester, Massachusetts. However, that’s where they’ll discover one of Massachusetts’ most popular ice climbing destinations: Auburn Ice Canyon.

Located at the corner of Worcester, Millbury, and Auburn—just minutes from the Mass Pike and Route 290—Auburn Ice Canyon started as a flood diversion channel for the greater Worcester area. Later, some discovered that the channel’s steep walls and melting snow above consistently icing over created steep ice climbs. Although the entrance can be seen from the busy local road, Route 20, you’ll find the best climbing and longest routes by following the culvert to its end. Here, the rock walls turn to concrete and the channel into a tunnel.

Because Auburn Ice Canyon is a drainage, its floor may consist of varying levels of water. Thus, the best time to visit is after a long-enough cold stretch, which then freezes the canyon’s floor. Popular with beginners and experts alike, Auburn Ice Canyon delivers routes steep enough for strong climbers to get a workout, and top-rope friendly attitude that newbies will appreciate. Leaders, beware: Suspect rock and interesting top-outs may make straightforward-looking climbs spicier than anticipated.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries

Although most people associate Quincy Quarries with rock climbing and graffiti, you’ll also find solid ice climbing at this close-to-Boston locale. Operating as a quarry from 1825 to 1963, Quincy Quarry earned the nickname “The Birthplace of the Granite Industry,” as places and businesses across the nation used its stone. More prominently, the Bunker Hill Monument features it to some degree.

For the best ice climbing at QQ, start with “A Wall,” the first wall on the left after you make the five-minute approach from the parking lot. Depending on conditions, QQ has as many as five distinct ice flows, each providing 35-foot vertical climbs with multiple variations. The climbing itself is Scottish-like, mixing sometimes quite-thin ice with rock moves and turf sticks. This is especially true at the starts of the routes, with the best ice usually found higher up.

Of course, the ice here can be ephemeral. As a good rule of thumb, hold off on visiting until after a heavy rain or snow followed by two to three nights of colder temperatures. Although the ice usually hangs around once it comes in, it doesn’t survive every thaw. So, before you set up your top-rope, it’s a good idea to scope out A Wall from across the “Cove.” And, if the ice has unexpectedly come down, you’ll find fantastic dry tooling on Layback Corner and M Crack on M Wall (both 5.8) and on Finger Flux (5.11) in the nearby Swingle’s Quarry.

As you work your way around QQ, you’ll easily notice remnants of the historic operation. Climbers regularly use the old “staples” for anchors, and even some “feathers”—shims used to help split the granite—are still in the rock. Particularly, you’ll see one at the base of a route on A Wall. And, if history is your thing, make sure to check out the Granite Railway on the Quarry’s backside. Established in 1826, it was the country’s first railroad and is now a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Find it by walking down the path between J and K walls.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keene Railroad Cut

Keene is known as a quiet college town located on the New Hampshire-Vermont border. However, long before Keene State was founded, the city, like many in New Hampshire, was based around manufacturing. In part, the Cheshire Railroad spurred this development, carrying goods to market and outdoor enthusiasts (including Henry David Thoreau) to Mount Monadnock and the surrounding region. Although the railroad hasn’t run since the 1960s, the send train runs all winter on the Keene Railroad Cut’s walls, provided it’s cold enough.

Approaching the climbing is easy, as it’s a short walk from an obvious pullout on Route 12 near the city limits. Even better, the approach is almost always packed down, thanks to the snowmobiles that frequent the Cheshire Rail Trail. This 42-mile long trail begins near the the Massachusetts border in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and ends in North Walpole, New Hampshire.

You’ll know you’ve made it to the Keene Railroad Cut, or simply the Railroad Cut, when you get there. Here, the walls sharply rise above the old railroad bed, and numerous ice flows line its sides. Most routes stand between 20 and 30 feet tall, and while short in stature, they deliver steep climbing. And, convenience isn’t only found in the location and approach here. As well, sturdy trees, fixed anchors, and straightforward walk-arounds make top-roping a simple affair. Thus, it’s a popular destination for newer climbers and locals looking for a workout.

Pro Tip: Play nice with the snowmobilers, and keep your kit out of the middle of the trail. Their cooperation is key for access.

 

Although these three spots are not natural treasures, their local outdoor communities appreciate them for their easily accessible, close-to-home ice climbing. Have a manmade spot you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments, so we can check it out!


Mountain Biking Boston’s South Shore

Mountain bikers rely on their local trail systems to keep their legs fit, skills sharp, and the need for fat-tire fun satiated. From mid-week training sessions to giving an out-of-towner a tour, the local trail provides a reliable place to ride. As well, a “oneness” with the terrain comes after having logged countless miles on it. So, for those south of Boston looking to join the mountain bike scene or just ride somewhere new, these three destinations offer something for everyone, from first-timers to seasoned riders.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Blue Hills Reservation

Located just outside of Boston, Blue Hills Reservation delivers everything from moderate fire roads and double-track to long climbs and gnarly rock gardens, making it easy to tailor rides to almost anyone’s ability. The trails are user friendly and well marked, and the easy-to-read map makes navigating the 7,000-acre park a piece of cake. Because of this, you’ll find everyone from serious racers in training to casual riders enjoying Blue Hills’ trails.

White and Yellow Trails

The main jumping-off point is the parking lot at Houghton’s Pond (840 Hillside St., Milton). From here, two color-coded trails designated for mountain biking depart: the White Trail and the Yellow Trail. The easier of the two, the six-mile White Trail is a loop marked with white triangles. Running in a counterclockwise direction, the White Trail is mostly comprised of gentle fire roads and easy double-track. The 4.5-mile Yellow Trail loop, on the other hand, is the more advanced of the two. Much like the White Trail, the Yellow Trail mostly follows fire roads and double-track but involves more climbing.

Buck Hill

Just because the White and Yellow Trails offer little in the way of technical challenges doesn’t mean advanced riders won’t find anything. In fact, they offer a great way to log mileage in between sampling some of the reservation’s more challenging terrain.

For more serious riders, the White Trail connects with some of the rocky trails that border Chickatawbut Road between Tucker and Buck Hill, before heading up toward Buck Hill’s summit, one of the reservation’s signature climbs. The near mile-long climb up starts moderately, but the technical challenges grow on the last third, just as your legs begin to tire. A fantastic 360-degree view, including Boston’s skyline and the harbor islands, serves as the reward for your efforts. Then, a fast and fun descent takes you back the way you came.

Those visiting should know that the reservation is closed to mountain biking in March, there is no night riding, and some trails are off-limits to bikes. Also, be aware that most trails are multi-use, which means you’ll be sharing them with hikers and horseback riders. For more information, check out the Blue Hills Mountain Bike Map and Brochure.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Borderland

One of the best-kept secrets for New England mountain biking is North Easton’s Borderland State Park. Why don’t more people talk about it? Simply put, for all of the great riding found there, very little of it suits intermediate riders. But, with ample easy and plenty of challenging terrain, Borderland is the place for scenic, smooth cruising, testing your skills in some of the state’s most difficult rock gardens, and answering the question of “Just how rocky can a mountain bike trail get?” The answer: Very!

Pond Walk Trail

Leaving from the park’s entrance at 259 Massapoag Ave. in Easton, beginner riders will love the mellow double-track found on the Pond Walk Trail. More than merely pleasant riding, the Pond Walk Trail takes you past many of the park’s most notable attractions. You’ll ride by Ames Mansion, built using granite quarried within Borderland; the Wilbur Farmhouse, dating back to 1786; and both Leach Pond and Upper Leach Pond. As a tip, advanced riders can loop Ames Mansion in with the Quarry Trail, which circumnavigates the old quarry.

Bob’s and NEMBA Trails

Advanced riders will want to challenge themselves on many of the park’s rougher and more technical trails. Two have been specifically designed for mountain bikes: Bob’s Trail and the NEMBA Trail. A great place for new-to-Borderland riders to get a feel for what’s to come, Bob’s Trail serves as a popular warm-up for fit locals. Specifically, it packs rock gardens, baby head-laden singletrack, and a bridge, all in less than a mile.

Riders looking for even more of a challenge should head to the NEMBA Trail. Featuring open rock slabs, steep rollovers, and tight twists and turns, the NEMBA Trail is perfect for advanced riders looking to test their technical abilities.

Borderland does have a $10/day use fee ($5 for residents), available from a machine at the main parking area. While Borderland is very mountain-bike friendly, mountain bikes are prohibited along a few trails, including the Pond Edge, Swamp, and Quiet Woods.

Also, the park asks that bikers avoid the trails on wet and muddy days to help keep them usable for years to come. As well, the park can get busy, especially around the main entrance and the mansion, so help keep the trails open for bikers by paying attention to and being respectful of other users. This map will help you get your bearings.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest delivers some of the best mountain biking south of Boston. Comprising over 1,000 acres in Foxborough and Wrentham, its 23 miles of trails are well marked and easy to navigate, especially with the maps found at most major junctions. From beginner-friendly double-track to narrow, technical singletrack, Gilbert offers something for everyone. But, be forewarned. Everything here is a bit more challenging due to loose rock and numerous rock gardens.

Moderate Trails

Parking along High Rock Road in Wrentham is the best way to access Gilbert’s mountain biking. Understand, though, that you may want avoid the trails on Patriots game days, when nobody in their right mind should be attempting to recreate anywhere near Foxborough.

Riders looking for moderate terrain from High Rock Rd. should continue on the unpaved road of the same name into the forest. Noticeably different from double-track found elsewhere in the state, many of Gilbert Hills’ easier trails are wide and less technical. But, they’re also a bit loose, so pay attention while ascending and descending the park’s short and steep hills. From High Rock Road, riders can access a significant portion of the park’s more moderate riding, including along Messenger Road and the Megley Trail.

More Technical Trails

The area’s designated mountain biking trail makes for a much more challenging ride. Bikers can join it where it bisects High Rock Road at the halfway point or from the main parking lot at the end of the road. Riders should expect technical terrain throughout, with small sections of flowing singletrack interrupted by regular rock gardens and other advanced features. Although you can go in either direction, riding it counterclockwise means you’ll get the (comparatively) easier terrain first.

In addition, you can access a slew of other trails for both dirt and mountain bikes from the High Rock Road parking lot. Consisting of rough, rocky terrain that tests even the most skilled riders, these trails feature small to large drops, rollovers, and even a little bit of pure rock riding not typically associated with the Northeast. And, the unique geography, with three interconnected drumlins, provides lots of short, steep up-and-down riding.

 

Whether you’re looking for a reliable place to ride south of Boston or just interested in mixing up your regular destination, consider checking out these three locations. Each offers plenty of opportunities to log miles, tackle challenging terrain, and get in a solid training session. So, go out for a ride at one or all, and tell us about it in the comments.

Credit: Tim Peck
[/media-credit] Credit: Tim Peck

9 Tips for Rock Climbing With Kids

Rock climbing is great for children. It gets them outside, it teaches problem solving, communication, and trust, and most importantly, it offers them an outlet to expend their infinite energy reserves. For all these reasons, you should consider taking them with you the next time you head off to climb outdoors.

At the same time, a trip to the local crag becomes a bit more complicated when you add child-climbers into the mix. So, to prepare, here are nine tips to keep cragging with the kiddos fun and safe for everyone.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

1. Choose the Right Crag

Kid-friendly, top-roping crags typically have three things in common. First, there is an easy and short approach with no objective hazards. Second, the staging area at the base of the climb—where you’ll be spending the next couple of hours belaying and hanging out—is flat and safe. Third, the routes should be easy (between 5.0 to 5.5) and less than vertical, and should have smooth landings, in case they have trouble with the first few moves.

If you’re in the Boston area, the most concentrated selection of beginner climbs is on the Main Wall at Chestnut Hill’s Hammond Pond. The best route, an alcove at the far-left end, is a fun, easy climb that everybody can do.

2. Get Them the Right Gear

Kids need two pieces of equipment to climb safely: a harness and a climbing-specific helmet. Climbing shoes are not essential, but their sticky rubber soles do make things easier.

For children younger than 6 or 7, a full-body harness is recommended. These harnesses have a tie-in point at chest-level and are designed to prevent kids from falling out if they flip upside down.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

3. Help Them Through the Hard Moves

Climbing does not come easily for every kid. If your kiddo is struggling at a specific move low on the route, one simple technique that helps build confidence is the “foot-spot.” Just use your hand to stabilize her foot on the hold, so that she can climb through the difficulty to easier terrain.

If her crux is out of your reach, consider having the belayer take a little extra weight as the climber attempts the move. This extra “pull” is often enough to assist a child through the move and allows him or her to finish the climb.

4. What Goes Up Must Come Down

First-time climbers often struggle with transitioning to being lowered after they get to the top of the climb. So, before your kid leaves the ground, rehearse what will happen once she reaches the top. Kids are much more likely to “trust the rope” if you’ve had them climb up about six to seven feet and then do a practice lower. Moreover, it’s much easier to correct their body position for lowering when they are within arm’s reach than when they are swinging nervously at the top!

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

5. Bring Snacks and Toys

Bring a variety of small snacks for the kids after their “sends.” They help keep the energy levels high and usually provide enough distraction for the break between climbs.

If you are planning on climbing with a couple of kids, consider bringing toys and games to keep them busy and engaged throughout the outing. For example, we always bring my younger son’s toy trucks when we go climbing as a family. He’s only three, so his attention span for climbing can be quite short. But, he’s always happy to hang around and fill his dump truck with dirt while the rest of us get in a couple more top-rope laps.

6. Set Clear Expectations

Kids, especially young ones, require a lot of attention when climbing. Set expectations by articulating clear rules, particularly about edge safety. And, when climbing with several kids, having a second adult, who supervises the non-climbing children so the belayer can avoid distractions, keeps the focus solely on the climber’s safety.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

7. Manage Your Own Ambitions

When you head out to climb with your family, try not to get carried away with your own “sending” ambitions. Your project is probably too hard for your kids, and they’ll get bored—and want to go home—if they have to watch you work it for too long. Try instead to get your climbing fix either on the route they’re climbing or on an adjacent one.

8. Not Every Climbing Session Ends Perfectly

Despite your best efforts, sometimes the climbing is too crowded, the route is too hard, or your little climber just isn’t into it. To avoid a total loss, have a backup plan. Scrambling on a nearby easy boulder problem is often a good alternative. A quick hike or nature walk is another option.

9. Consider Taking a Lesson

Climbing is dangerous. If you are interested in climbing with your family, but don’t feel confident doing it yourself, sign up for a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School.

Can you think of any other tips for rock climbing with kids? Share them here in the comments section!


Top 3 Boston Area Hikes for Mother's Day

Looking for a family-friendly hike in the Greater Boston area, but don’t know where to start? Well, for a Mother’s Day activity, here are three of our favorites, all close to the city. So, get the family together, hit the trail, and enjoy some of the best scenery and recreation Greater Boston has to offer. And, to top it off, we even suggest a way to treat Mom on the way home!

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

1. World’s End

World’s End is a 250-acre Trustees of Reservations property in Hingham, Mass., comprised of four drumlins created by a retreating glacier. Over four miles of carriage roads originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted link these together. The hiking is moderate and offers incredible views of the Boston skyline, Hingham and Boston Harbors, and the surrounding South Shore communities.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

Hiking the Park

Navigating around the park is easy, especially if you print a copy of the trail map ahead of time. While you’re there, prioritize hiking the mile over Planter’s Hill, across the “Bar” (an isthmus connecting the property to the outermost drumlins), and then up onto World’s End proper. That route traverses the property’s open fields, regularly looks out over the skyline and harbor, and has numerous benches for picnicking or sitting and enjoying the scenery. It will also take you by A New End, a kid-friendly spiral mirror-sculpture that is part of the Trustees’ “Art and the Landscape” initiative.

When you travel at a leisurely pace, this out-and-back loop takes between 1.5 to two hours, and can be adjusted to suit your schedule and interests.

If you are thinking of visiting World’s End on Mother’s Day, note that the Trustees do charge a $6 fee for non-member adults. As well, make sure to go early, as the parking lot fills up quickly, especially on bluebird days.

If you don’t end up bringing a picnic, Hingham Center is just a few miles away. Stars, located on Hingham Harbor, is a great place to take Mom for lunch on the way home.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

2. Great Blue Hill

If you are seeking something a little more strenuous, consider climbing Great Blue Hill in the Blue Hills Reservation. Standing 635 feet tall, Great Blue Hill is the tallest point within 10 miles of the Atlantic Coast, south of Maine. From Eliot Tower on the summit, you can see a panoramic view of the Blue Hills Reservation, Boston Harbor, and the city’s skyline.

Hiking Up

The most straightforward way up Big Blue is the Red Dot Trail, which starts from the Trailside Museum parking lot, just off Route 138 on the Milton-Canton town border. Signs and red circular blazes clearly mark the trail, which climbs over rocks and slabs as it meanders first up to the Summit Road and then to Eliot Tower. The ascent is family friendly, is less than a mile in length, and takes between 25 and 40 minutes at a casual pace.

The courtyard at Eliot Tower has several picnic tables—the perfect place for lunch or a snack before you continue. Next, hike the Eliot Circle Loop, a short, flat trail that circles Big Blue’s summit. It takes hikers across the Eliot Memorial Bridge, past the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, and then back to Eliot Tower. If you have time, consider taking a tour of the observatory, the oldest continuously operating one in the country.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

Descending Big Blue

You have several options for getting off Big Blue. The easiest is heading back down the Red Dot Trail—the same way you came up. For a slightly longer route, however, continue on the other half of the Red Dot Trail as it heads north, before it eventually loops back to the Trailside Museum. Both of these descent routes are well-marked and also clearly shown on the Blue Hills Reservation trail map.

Because Big Blue is a popular weekend destination, try to time your hike before the mid-morning rush or after the afternoon crowds have dwindled. If you have kids, combine it with a trip to the Trailside Museum, an interpretative center with free outdoor wildlife exhibits. In the warmer months, their river otter exhibit is the main attraction! And, if all the hiking has built up your appetite, stop by Amber Road Café in Canton Center for breakfast or lunch on the way home.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

3. Borderland State Park

Another option worth checking out, Borderland State Park, located along the borders of Sharon and Easton, has over 20 miles of hiking. The trails offer something for everybody, ranging in difficulty from moderate strolls on old farm roads to more strenuous and rocky single-track hiking paths.

What to Do

A must-see in Borderland is the Ames Mansion, a three-story stone home built in the early 1900s. A great way to visit the park and the mansion is to hike Borderland’s Pond Walk Trail. When done clockwise from Borderland’s two main parking lots, the trail makes a three-mile loop on dirt carriage roads around Leach Pond and finishes close to the mansion.

For those looking to increase the mileage, consider adding one of the several loops off Pond Walk Trail on the northwest side of Leach Pond or one of the other options described on the Borderland trail map.

If you are looking to treat Mom to dessert after your hike, stop by Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar in Sharon. Although the lines are sometimes long, the ice cream is worth the wait.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

A Guide to Running Boston's Blue Hills Skyline Trail

Located just outside of Boston, the Blue Hills Skyline Trail takes runners on a nine-mile traverse across the heart of the Blue Hills Reservation and offers metropolitan New Englanders a classic trail run. With approximately 2,000 feet of elevation gain and some of the region’s most technical up-and-down terrain, it’s a great test-piece that’s well worth checking out.

If you are running the full traverse for the first time, it’s best to begin from the parking lot at Shea Rink in Quincy. From that trailhead, it’s easy to follow the Skyline’s rectangular blue-blazes, especially if you print a copy of the map ahead of time. Road crossings segment the Skyline into the six distinct sections, letting you break it up into bite-sized chunks:

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

The Opening Salvo

The first section—between Shea Rink and Wampatuck Road—is so short that I consider it my warm up. Through its flat single and double track, you’ll have breezed by St. Moritz Pond after just a few minutes and be preparing to cross Wampatuck Road.

The second section begins as the Skyline makes a sharp, well-marked southwest turn just after the road crossing. From there, the trail climbs gradually on rocky but runnable terrain, going past an old quarry and then to the summit of Rattlesnake Hill. After, the trail then quickly descends over some technical terrain, which usually has me regretting bypassing the easier way down on the runner’s right, before ascending up and over Wampatuck Hill to Chickatawbut Road.

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

The Crux

To Chickatawbut Hill

The next three sections put the meat on the Skyline’s bones. The first, easy to underestimate, traverses Nahanton, Kitchamkin, Fenno, and Chickatawbut Hills. Up to Chickatawbut Hill, a current Mass Audubon facility and former Nike missile base, the trail flows well and is runnable. Be mentally prepared, however, for the section’s up-and-down nature. Here, you’ll almost immediately be giving back (and then re-earning) all that hard-won elevation.

After Chickatawbut Hill, the Skyline has a lengthy descent to the Route 28 road crossing. A short portion goes down a rocky outcropping and requires careful route-finding, until you can escape to easier terrain in the woods on the runner’s right.

Credit: Bill Iliot
Credit: Bill Iliot

Fourth Section

Once you’ve made it across Route 28, the fourth section begins with one of the traverse’s steepest climbs. But, the ascent is well worth it, and I often find myself pausing momentarily on Buck Hill’s open summit to appreciate the fantastic 360-degree view.

Before you get too far, make sure to look back northeast at Boston Harbor and the city skyline. Then, run off Buck Hill, across North Boyce Hill, and up steep Tucker Hill, the final climb, before heading downhill to Hillside Street and Reservation Headquarters.

As the Skyline’s only facility beyond the halfway point, Reservation Headquarters has a seasonal outdoor water fountain and, during business hours, an indoor public bathroom.

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

North and South Skyline

From Headquarters, the Skyline temporarily splits into the North Skyline and the South Skyline, eventually rejoining near the summit of Great Blue Hill. Standing 635 feet tall, Great Blue Hill is the tallest point within 10 miles of the Atlantic Coast, south of Maine.

Of the two options, the North Skyline, with its traverse of Hancock, Hemingway, and Wolcott Hills, is a more aesthetically pleasing east-to-west route. It is also the more technical of the two, with a few short but steeper-than-you’d-expect-for-Greater-Boston descents.

Taking the North Skyline also allows you to run by the two most well-known attractions on Big Blue, the Eliot Tower and the Eliot Memorial Bridge, before the trail meets up with the South Skyline near the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory. Both are named after Charles Eliot, the landscape architect who helped design many of Greater Boston’s parks. The Skyline then loops around the Observatory, the oldest continuously operating one in the country, before making a comparatively lengthy descent to the Route 28 road crossing.

The Final Sprint

Assuming you have some energy left, the Skyline’s final section is a good place to push it and try to surpass a personal record. In no time, you’ll dispatch Little Blue Hill, the section’s only climb, cross a side street, and be nearing the trail’s western-terminus. And, then, it’s over, ending anticlimactically at an unmarked finish line near an Interstate 95 on-ramp.

Credit: John Dill
Credit: John Dill

Skyline Loop

If you don’t have time for the full traverse or only have one car, the Skyline Loop (3.5 miles, with 800 feet of elevation gain) is a great alternative. It starts on the North Skyline at the Reservation Headquarters on Hillside Street, traverses west across Hancock, Hemingway, and Wolcott Hills as described above, and then meets with the South Skyline on Great Blue Hill.

The South Skyline brings you back east, eventually climbing Houghton Hill before dropping down to Hillside Street and then requiring a short jog back to Reservation Headquarters. And, with the multiplicity of trails leaving from this location, it’s easy to tack on extra mileage at the end if you are still feeling fresh.


Running the Wapack Trail

Named for the mountains marking the beginning and end—Mount Watatic in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, and North Pack Monadnock in Greenfield, New Hampshire—the 21.5-mile Wapack Trail opened in 1923, making it one of the United States’ oldest interstate trails. Crossing both public and private lands, the Wapack of today is virtually unchanged, except for some re-routing to adapt to changing conditions.

Whether you’re looking to attempt the entire trail in a day or run it in sections, the Wapack has something for everyone. At the same time, it goes through the traditional New England landscape, cresting rocky ridges and descending past dark forests. If, however, you just want to sample the choicest parts, here are some of the Wapack’s must-do runs.

The summit of Pack Monadnock. | Credit: Tim Peck
The summit of Pack Monadnock. | Credit: Tim Peck

Pack Monadnock

Miller State Park, located off Route 101 in Peterborough, New Hampshire, is home to Pack Monadnock (or, simply, “Pack”), which is one of my favorite portions along the Wapack. In fact, you can tell how great this run is because, despite its many negatives, I find myself there on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. Honestly, this run is so good I routinely have to force myself to go other places at lunch.

It may be a paradox, but the bad thing about this trail is that it’s so great. It has interesting terrain, it’s short enough that it attracts people of all fitness levels, it’s steep but not so much that it can’t be run, and it offers amazing views.

However, because it’s such a great trail, it’s also quite popular, which means it also has a parking fee, a heavily traveled road, and a bunch of buildings on it. Pack’s positives far outweigh its negatives, though. For example, the bathrooms at both ends can be a welcome sight, and the running water at the summit means there’s no need to carry bottles or hydration bladders.

Mount Monadnock from Pack. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Monadnock from Pack. | Credit: Tim Peck

Running Pack Monadnock

Leaving the Miller State Park parking lot, the Wapack Trail climbs 1.3 miles while gaining a little under 1,000 feet to the 2,290-foot summit of Pack Monadnock. Feeling winded? Don’t let the steep and challenging nature of the trail scare you off. The first quarter-mile is the hardest. After that, the trail flattens out and becomes less technical, at least by New England standards. If the initial climb hasn’t left you too blurry eyed, look out when the forest opens up and take in the awesome view of Temple Mountain and Mount Monadnock as you cross the breaks.

While not technically on the Wapack Trail, a few variations let you add mileage, increase difficulty, and take in more stunning views. The most natural thing to do is create a loop by descending the Marion Davis Trail from Pack Monadnock’s summit. Roughly the same length as the Wapack Trail, the Marion Davis Trail is a little less steep and technical, making it a much easier descent on tired legs.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Add in North Pack

There are plenty of occasions when I want to run Pack Monadnock but need or want to run farther than three miles. In these situations, traveling over to the summit of 2,276-foot North Pack Monadnock (or just “North Pack”) is the perfect solution.

When I stand on Pack’s summit, North Pack looks only minutes away, but in reality, it’s a fun two-mile run across a wooded ridge. Not very technical, and with the exception of a few steep parts at the beginning and end, this section is perfect for picking up the pace, at least if you have the legs to do it after ascending Pack. In the fall, leave the energy bars at home, as wild blueberry bushes are abundant around the summit.

Looking to add even more challenges or cover different terrain? Divert from the Wapack to the Cliff Trail to add an extra half-mile as well as some trickier conditions on your way to North Pack’s summit, and then, on the way down, follow the Wapack Trail back to Pack (and, eventually, to your car).

Pack from North Pack. | Credit: Tim Peck
Pack from North Pack. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Watatic

Marking the trail’s southern terminus is 1,832-foot high Mount Watatic. Here, the Wapack Trail leaves from a well-marked parking lot off Route 119 in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, and on busy weekends, you’re likely to see cars lining the road, as the lot reaches capacity quickly.

Mountain runners will love running the Wapack Trail on Mount Watatic, as it packs plenty of vertical, crosses diverse, demanding terrain, and features a bald summit with incredible views of Mount Wachusett. On clear days, even the Boston skyline is visible! What’s truly impressive is that it does this all in just a little over a mile.

Looking for an additional challenge? Just do what the runners of the Wapack and Back (the double-length trail race along the Wapack) do when they reach Watatic’s parking lot in order to hit the 50-mile mark—run up it, over it, and back a second time.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Go Big on New Hampshire’s Small Mountains

It’s believed that the Native Americans named these mountains, and that “Pack” means little. While they may be small in stature compared to some of New Hampshire’s larger mountains, the Wapack is capable of delivering big days. For those looking for a full-sized outing, running the Wapack from beginning to end is a worthy challenge.

But, don’t make the same mistake I did: Take the trail seriously. Running the Wapack is no joke, with technical terrain and fickle New England weather—wet and slippery in the spring, hot and humid in the summer, leaves covering obstacles in the fall, and snow and ice in winter—thrown in. And, it’s not just the nature of the trails and the weather that make this climb difficult. Additionally, the route ascends approximately 4,600 feet over its 21.5 miles, and with numerous short and steep up-and-downs, its relentless nature can exhaust even the heartiest trail runner.

Before You Go

While signing up for the Wapack and Back race is one approach, running the Wapack Trail self-supported is a fairly easy undertaking. First, the Wapack is very well marked, with yellow blazes and cairns on the ridges; in most instances, just a quick look around will reveal one. Secondly, the trail passes plenty of places to stash extra food and water. Or, because of some sections’ easier nature, you can have people of all skill and fitness levels meet you along the way with something to eat or drink or maybe even give you that much-needed pep talk.

With the exception of going through the whole thing, I have only highlighted runs at this awesome trail’s beginning and end, and there are so many other good routes in between. Get out to explore this historic trail, find your new favorite run, and maybe even challenge yourself to do it all, whether in sections or all at once.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

 


New England's Top 3 Best Fall Bike Rides

There is perhaps no finer time for riding a bicycle in New England than in fall, as the heat of summer has subsided and the leaves have begun to change. In addition to the great weather and fantastic foliage, with winter looming, there is additional motivation to do those rides before the snow flies and the bike is either stored away or put on the trainer until spring.

Those looking to capitalize on fall’s combination of ideal weather and awesome scenery, all while challenging themselves, should check out the three bike rides listed below, as they travel iconic and quintessential New England roads, offer an excellent opportunity to take in fall colors, and present incredible journeys.

The Kancamagus

For outdoor enthusiasts, the Kancamagus Highway is one of New England’s must-ride roads, and due to its spectacular scenery and fantastic foliage, it sees heavy traffic during fall. But, don’t let the influx of cars and motorcycles deter you from experiencing this bucket-list worthy trip—just visit mid-week or get on early to avoid the masses.

Plus, if you’re going to let something scare you away, it should be the hills, known to be steep and relentless. Riders attempting this just-over-25-mile ride need to be prepared to climb, because they’ll do plenty of it on the way to Kancamagus Pass at 2,855 feet. Once you make it to the pass, stop to enjoy the view, and then brace for a quick descent back to town. While riding the Kanc one-way is a great achievement, riding it out and back will earn you the respect of cyclists all over New England.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The EMS Century

The EMS Century ride is a cruise from the store in Peterborough, NH that’s always been popular with employees. Going past such Southern New Hampshire landmarks as Mount Monadnock, the Dublin General Store (stop in and get a cookie!), and Crotched Mountain while winding through classic New England towns, the path was almost enough to make you forget how fast your coworkers were on a bike. Take on this great ride on your own—click here for a map.

Before you depart, stop in the Peterborough store for ride beta, and load up on gels…You’ll certainly need them with just under 6,000 feet of climbing ahead!

The Cape Cod Rail Trail Extension

While hordes of New Englanders flock to Cape Cod throughout the summer, smart cyclists know that fall is the time to visit. One of my favorite rides there links up the Cape Cod Rail Trail, Route 6, and Route 6A for a great trek past beaches and cranberry bogs, and through the changing leaves at Nickerson State Park, before culminating with a slow roll through downtown Provincetown and ending appropriately at the ocean (check out the map here). If you’ve survived the two rides listed above, you’ll love the flat nature of this trip and the gentle character of the Cape’s hills.

At a little over forty miles, this trail is a great excuse to work up an appetite for lunch in one of Provincetown’s many fantastic restaurants. Although, if you’re up for it, this ride also makes an excellent out-and-back, with the first and last 20 or so miles on the flat and fast-moving Rail Trail.

 

The clock is ticking to get these great rides in before winter. The leaves are changing, the days are getting shorter, and, before you know it, the roads will be covered with ice, snow, and salt—and you’ll be spinning on the trainer, wishing you had made the time to get in one more epic ride before the end of the season. Of course, if you don’t get to them this fall, use them for motivation to be ready when spring rolls around.

Do you have a favorite long Northeast bike ride that we missed? Let us know below.


Selected Rock Crags of Boston

Hey, Bostonians:

Have a few hours free this week? Skip the gym and prepare for your next trip to Rumney or Pawtuckaway at these local Boston climbing crags!

The greater Boston area is home to a ton of outdoor climbing and bouldering spots, most of which offer a range of difficulties and climbing styles. Climb safely and set up a top rope for anything over your comfort zone (EMS Schools offer a great Top Rope Set Up class). To get there, biking is usually the easiest mode of transportation, but driving, Ubering, or taking the T is never a bad choice if the crag is far. Check out my favorites:

Hammond Pond Lower Wall

1. Hammond Pond

I love this place. Newton’s Hammond Pond Reservation is home to an awesome collection of climbs. The dominant rock is Roxbury puddingstone, the Massachusetts state rock and a conglomerate that primarily consists of glacial pebbles and pockets that give the climbs here really unique but sometimes sharp features.

Mountain Project lists 130 climbs throughout the reservation’s 14 crags. Most bouldering landings here are good, but as you should always do when climbing outdoors, make sure to lay down a couple pads and always use a spotter. There are a few wall cracks at Hammond Pond that offer viable trad leads, but most routes should be top-roped using extended tree anchors (30 to 40 feet).

How to get there:

Driving: Go west on Route 9 to the Chestnut Hill Mall right before reaching Hammond Pond Parkway. Here, you’ll find parking spaces for the Hammond Pond Reservation located on the northeast side of the mall lot.

Biking: Take Beacon Street west and then turn left on Woodman Road right after Boston College. Stay on Woodman, until you reach Suffolk Road and then head west until you reach the Reservation’s entrance.

The T: Catch the Green Line D train to the Chestnut Hill stop and walk south on Hammond Street, until you hit the Chestnut Hill Mall.

Lower “Main” Wall

This prominent 35-foot wall sits directly toward the pond’s shore when you walk from the trailhead at the Chestnut Hill Mall; you can’t miss it! Lower Wall is an awesome place to bring beginner climbers. If you’re bringing a group, try to get there early in the morning, because this crag can get pretty crowded later in the day. When you go to climb, set up your anchor on at least two of the topside trees and extend it over the edge. Lower Wall contains climbs ranging from 5.2 to 5.8 and some pretty fun hand and finger cracks. If it’s quiet, it’s a perfect spot to practice pro placement.

Recommended Climb: Hidden Magic, 5.7

Hammond Pond The Alove 2

The Alcove

The Alcove is home to some of the best bouldering routes you can find in Boston. This area is slightly harder to locate than Lower Wall but well worth a few extra minutes of your time to find. When walking from the trailhead at the Chestnut Hill Mall, just take your first left onto the trail going uphill before Lower Wall. After walking a couple of minutes, you’ll find the trail squeezed between two 15-foot boulders, and you’ve reached the Alcove. The climbs here range from about V0 to V6, and it’s visited year round due to its sunny southern exposure.

Recommended Climb: Breakfast of Champions, V3

2. Rattlesnake Rocks

These 10 crags sit on a secluded ridgeline in the famous Blue Hills Reservation of Braintree. The band of 30-foot granite cliffs offers climbs from about 5.5 to 5.11, as well as a few high-ball boulder problems. Top-roping off pro here is the norm, but there are a few crack climbs that could be led if you’re feeling confident.

Mountain Project lists 32 climbs in the area, but there are much more in reality. If you’re interested in exploring and documenting them, Rattlesnake Rocks is a great local spot to check out. The approach is about a 15-minute hike from the Shea Ice Rink parking lot. Take the Skyline Trail from the parking lot’s south side and hike about 10 minutes to cross Wampatuck Road. From here, continue for a few more minutes, and you’ll reach the crags.

How to get there:

Driving: Follow Route 93 south to exit 8 for Willard Street. From Willard, keep driving south, until you see Shea Ice Rink on the west side of the road and park there.

Biking: No matter which way you’re coming from, you’ll have to take a complex series of side roads, but the benefit of biking is that you can ride in directly on Wampatuck Road and pretty much start off right at the crags.

The T: Take the Red Line to Quincy Adams and then switch to Bus #238 and ride to the intersection of Willard and Ames Streets. Once here, the rink parking lot is right across the street.

Black and White Rocks Crag 1- Pinnacle Rock

3. Black and White Rocks

Not a ton of info is available about this spot online, which might be a good thing. Black and White Rocks is located in the southeastern corner of the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Melrose. The rock here ranges from about 15- to 80-feet tall and is rarely visited. Most of the climbs are only a short walk from the surrounding road, and in the winter, some great local ice climbs can form. There are several undocumented routes in the area; for a more comprehensive list, pick up a copy of MIT Outing Club’s Boston Rocks guidebook.

How to get there:

Driving: Take I-93 north to exit 33 onto Elm Street and follow it to the intersection of Woodland and Highland. Head south on Highland Avenue and take E Border Road to turn left onto Fellsway east. Drive a couple minutes north and park at the first parking area on the left. The trails across the street access most of the crags.

Biking: The easiest way is to ride Fellsway north right from the Charles!

The T: Take the Orange Line to Oak Grove Station and walk about 25 minutes from there to the crag.

Recommended Climb: Crag 1- Delirium, 5.9

Quincy Quarries

4. Quincy Quarries

Quincy Quarries is the most well-known and photographed climbing area in Boston. The graffiti-covered granite here gets up to around 85 feet. Mountain Project lists 106 routes on the crag’s 21 faces. Usually there’s a crowd, but the rock tends to stay pretty dry. If you’re feeling it, there are a few trad routes here, but most of the climbing is top-roping off a mix of bolts and metal bar anchor points. If you’ve never climbed outside before, EMS Schools offers group and private climbing lessons at Quincy Quarries!

How to get there:

Driving: Follow I-93 to exit 8, and take your first right onto Ricciuti Drive.

Biking: Follow a pretty complex series of roads.

The T: Take the Red Line to Quincy Center and then switch to Bus #215 to Copeland and Willard Streets. Exit the bus, cross under the expressway, and take the first right onto Ricciuti Drive. The Quarries are on the right, a quarter-mile up Ricciuti Drive.

Recommended Climb: Q Wall- Steep Arete, 5.11


The Top 6 New England Hikes

If you’re not getting out hiking this month in New England, you’re missing out! Between the weather, foliage, and lack of bugs, any trail in this northeastern corner is sure to give you a great day out. But, we couldn’t pick just one, so we asked our staff to help choose the best New England hikes.

Credit: Chris Picardi
Credit: Chris Picardi

Maine: The Knife Edge

Chris Picardi

For some, summiting Maine’s Mt. Katahdin marks the culmination of an epic journey along the Appalachian Trail, while for many others, it’s the reward after a strenuous day hike. Regardless of why you are hiking Katahdin, the mountain’s one feature that will almost certainly leave you in awe is the Knife Edge Trail. This 1.1-mile stretch traverses an exposed ridge with plummeting drops on both sides. While the trail can be deadly during inclement weather, on a clear day, it provides the best views of the rest of the mountain and some of the most rugged landscapes in all of New England.

Credit: Hannah Wholtmann
Credit: Hannah Wholtmann

New Hampshire: Mount Liberty

Hannah Wohltmann

With only four miles to the summit, making it the easiest of the Franconia Ridge hikes, 4,459-foot Mount Liberty offers incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding White Mountains. This mountain is accessible and extraordinary in all four seasons of the year. Ascend and descend the Liberty Springs Trail, and make sure you don’t forget your camera! Whether you’re thru-hiking or day hiking, Mount Liberty is the best bang for your buck. 

Credit: Liz Bonacci
Credit: Liz Bonacci

Connecticut: Bear Mountain

Liz Bonacci

Looking for a great hike the whole family can enjoy? Look no further than Bear Mountain in Salisbury. While this mountain stands as the tallest in Connecticut, at 2,316 feet, don’t be intimidated. Take the Undermountain Trail off Route 41 and proceed gradually to the summit for three miles. The slower ascent allows you to chat with friends and family while enjoying the breathtaking views of the Berkshires in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The remains of an old stone tower at the summit let you scramble to the top to capture that “perfect” picture, or simply sit and enjoy lunch while basking in the accomplishment of climbing Connecticut’s highest peak.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Massachusetts: Mount Wachusett

Tim Peck

John Muir famously said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go,” but what happens when the mountains are calling, and you have other commitments? That’s where the convenience of Mount Wachusett comes in. The mountain is less than half an hour from Worcester, less than an hour from Boston, and under an hour and a half from Providence and Hartford, making it the go-to for anyone seeking an adventure without spending an entire day in the car. With an incredibly diverse array of trails, the mountain offers routes for everyone, as hikers can choose steep and direct ascents like the Pine Hill Trail or longer, more gradual climbs like Harrington. No matter which you choose, those who summit Mount Wachusett will be rewarded with great views of Mount Monadnock and Mount Watatic, and on clear days, the Boston skyline is visible, as well.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Rhode Island: The North-South Trail

Ryan Wichelns

There aren’t too many places in the country’s second-most densely populated state where you can really feel like you’re away from it, but the North-South Trail in the Arcadia Management Area might be one of them. The N-S Trail runs continuously from the Massachusetts border in the north to the ocean in the south, but the 13-mile thru-hike where it bisects Arcadia, with its mixture of quiet forests, old farmland, and 10-foot Stepstone Falls, is a highlight. Head south from the Hazard Road Parking Area to Buttonwood Road, and then, spend a night at the park’s only permitted backcountry campsite, located by Stepstone Falls.

Courtesy: Justin Rumano/Flickr
Courtesy: Justin Rumano/Flickr

Vermont: Devil’s Gulch

Go down, rather than up, to hike one of the hardest sections of the state-splitting Long Trail. The five-mile loop will take you over a mountain and then down deep, so you can scramble over logs, boulders, and through a small cave, all surrounded by 175-foot walls. Watch for moose amongst the ponds and meadows on the other side before looping back.