When Ultra-Enjoyment Outweighs Ultralight

We didn’t need a fire. (It was unseasonably warm.) We didn’t need s’mores. (Does anyone need s’mores?) We certainly didn’t need camp furniture. (We were used to roughing it.) And yet there we were, twelve women from the same hiking club standing in a circle in a dirt parking lot at 4 p.m. in Harriman State Park as our hike leader unloaded dry firewood from the trunk of her car. We handed it piece by piece to the person next to us, who in turn passed it around until we all had a hefty stick dutifully stuffed into our day packs.

The wood was followed by four bags of marshmallows, six large bars of chocolate, and three boxes of graham crackers, evenly distributed among the group. I managed to stuff a bar and a box next to my log. That left just enough room for the foil-wrapped sandwich I planned to toss in the fire for a fast dinner—in an effort to get to dessert sooner—and my seat pad because no way was I was going to eat s’mores with nothing between me and a rock.

Two of the women had little room in their packs for the s’mores fixings. At the time, I wondered: What could they possibly have packed for such a short, relatively easy hike of under two miles that their packs would be full?

What could they possibly have packed for such a short, relatively easy hike of under two miles that their packs would be full?

I knew most of the women, having hiked with them on various trails around the area—the Palisades Cliffs, Bear Mountain, Ramapo Valley, Pyramid Mountain, Norvin Green, and Wawayanda. I’d also joined several on a three-day trip in the Adirondacks. These were skilled hikers who lived to scale mountains. They weren’t the type to pack a lot of non-essentials.

With our packs loaded, we headed along trails wet from three consecutive days of rain (hence, the firewood) toward Bald Rocks, a grassy, mostly level open area with plenty of fire rings and places to pitch a tent or tie a hammock. By dusk, we’d reached our destination and found a site. Around us, campers were tying hammocks to trees and pitching tents.

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We built a fire, and organized the s’mores fixings on a tarp. While several women went on a mission to secure marshmallow-worthy sticks, I pulled out my seat pad. I noticed two women across the fire inserting metal poles into one another, flipping and turning them as though they were creating large-scale origami figures. But these were no cranes or orchids. They’d created camp chairs. After one completed her chair, she reached into her pack and pulled out another pouch. Flip, turn, insert, and voila! She’d assembled a table complete with cup holders strategically placed in the center. They inserted their water bottles into the holders and took a seat. Even through the flames of the fire, I could see that they were very happy (not to mention comfortable) campers.

I tossed my sandwich into the flames, a little disgusted, I admit. Then I approached the chairs.

I pointed to one. “Do you mind?” I asked the woman.

She smiled. “Go ahead,” she said as she rose.

I sat down. It was ridiculously comfortable for a camping chair—more comfy than any camping chair I’d ever tried. I envisioned myself pulling a gooey marshmallow from a stick as I sat in this chair, imagining it tasting a whole lot better than it would from my seat pad. I rose, and picked it up with one finger. It weighed less than the stick of firewood in my pack.

“Nice,” I said, setting it down and walking over to my seat pad, which I felt like kicking into the fire, but didn’t.

I drove home in the feeling like I’d just left a fancy spa.

After our feast, we walked about 50 feet to an open area where others from various campsites had gathered. We watched the sunset, then waited for the stars to appear. We located planets, and discussed the possibility of more s’mores. (Is there such a thing as too many, we wondered. We reluctantly decided the answer was yes.)

We returned to our fire and doused it with water, then packed up. We donned our headlamps and began hiking toward the trail.

“You’re leaving?” yelled one of the campers in a tone of disbelief.

We stood silent. Unsure perhaps of what to say. Did we really just hike up a mountain to eat s’mores, watch a sunset, then turn around and hike out—some of us hauling such creature comforts as furniture? Apparently, we did, and from the smiles around me, I’d wager that we’d do it again.

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“Guess so,” said someone in our group.

We heard laughter from the campers.

We laughed, too.

Then we removed our packs and assembled a care package of unopened bags of marshmallows, chocolate bars, and a box of graham crackers, and presented it to the campers who weren’t laughing anymore. In fact, they were speechless as they accepted our gift.

We said our goodbyes and hiked downhill through the darkness, stopping occasionally to admire the moon and stars through the branches, and peer into the dark forest.

Instead of returning to my car sweaty and exhausted, I felt a happy tiredness spread throughout my body. I drove home in the feeling like I’d just left a fancy spa—relaxed and happy, and with a newfound appreciation of the benefits of packing the creature comforts of home.


52 (More) goEast New Year's Resolutions

As we approach the New Year, it’s natural to look back and reflect on the 12 months that just passed. And, while it’s fun to think about our favorite summits, trips, and trails from that period, it’s equally exciting to look ahead and plan what’s next. With that in mind, we’ve gathered some more of our favorite articles from the past year to put together the ultimate outdoor-focused list of New Year’s resolutions. Make these ideas part of your bucket list for 2019.

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Winter

  1. A few of the Unbeatable Speed Records in the Northeast were broken last year. Start training now to find out how fast you can go.
  2. Go winter camping in comfort.
  3. Hike the Adirondacks’ MacIntyre Range and summit three of the High Peaks.
  4. Visit one of these unique ice climbing crags.
  5. Start working on New Hampshire’s other list, the 52 With a View. They’re awesome in the winter, and you won’t encounter the masses found on some of the Whites’ most popular 4,000-footers.
  6. Hike the Lion Head, one of Mount Washington’s iconic winter routes.
  7. Pray for weekend pow, and ski the Whiteface Auto Road.
  8. Ice climb Shoestring Gully.
  9. Learn the dos and don’ts of climbing in the gym.
  10. Celebrate Presidents’ Day by getting presidential in the White Mountains.
  11. Take your skis or snowboard on a trip.
  12. Lighten up the dark days of winter by brightening up your wardrobe.
  13. You’re not going to send your project by sitting on the couch—start training at home and crush it at the crag this year.

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Spring

  1. Don’t stop skiing just yet.
  2. Give your gear room a spring cleaning.
  3. Hike Mount Monadnock, the world’s second-most popular mountain.
  4. Ski Tuckerman Ravine, the epicenter of backcountry skiing in the Northeast.
  5. Break out your mountain bike early.
  6. No need to wait for Rocktober—send something this spring.
  7. Tackle one of Connecticut’s top-notch trails.
  8. Leave the tent behind and camp in a hammock.
  9. Find out if your pup is man’s best friend or man’s best hiking partner.
  10. Vow to keep your mountain bike clean through mud season.
  11. Get outside: Take your climbing from the gym to the crag.
  12. See how it feels to use trekking poles on your next hike.
  13. Take your road bike for a century ride—that’s one hundred(!) miles.

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Summer

  1. Summit the Catskills’ two 4,000 footers—even better, do it in a day.
  2. Hike Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast.
  3. Paddle the Adirondacks’ Seven Carries Route.
  4. Be a better (nicer) hiker.
  5. Hike the Thunderbolt Trail to the top of the tallest peak in Massachusetts.
  6. Go alpine climbing on the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle.
  7. Kick back with a cold one, and enjoy one of these top brews.
  8. Tick five High Peaks off your list by traversing the Dix Range.
  9. Take the kids for a hike in the ‘Daks this summer.
  10. Prove that big views don’t require big elevations.
  11. Avoid these backpacking no-nos on your next multi-day trip. (Did somebody say Pemi Loop?)
  12. Stretch out your paddling season.
  13. New York City might be so nice they named it twice, but every now and then, you need to escape the Empire City.

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Fall

  1. See great foliage without ever leaving Boston.
  2. Layer up for cool fall temps and go climb High E in the Gunks.
  3. Take a backpacking trip to New Hampshire’s Carter Range.
  4. Get out of Gotham, and get to these fantastic fall hikes.
  5. Peep leaves at these Adirondack hotspots.
  6. Ditch the single-pitch crowds at Rumney, and explore the area’s multi-pitch moderates.
  7. Make stretching after a run your new mantra.
  8. Stop avoiding these New Hampshire 4,000-footers.
  9. Hike Vermont’s tallest peak, Mount Mansfield.
  10. Celebrate the season—vest weather is the best weather!
  11. Do it the old-fashioned way by ditching the digital camera and try taking photos with film.
  12. Take your running off road.
  13. Donate on Giving Tuesday to one of these great Northeast organizations.

Of course, these are just a few outdoor-oriented New Year’s resolutions. We want to hear about what’s in store for 2019, so leave your plans in the comments!


The Top 10 Things to Do Around Whiteface This Winter

Whiteface Mountain, in Upstate New York, has significant history. It is one of the Adirondack region’s 46 High Peaks, home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and features a ski resort with the largest vertical drop in the East. With these factors in mind, Whiteface Mountain has plenty to offer the winter adventurer. But, while the mountain and nearby Lake Placid are well known as skiing and vacation destinations, you have plenty of other options for a winter excursion.

1. Ski or Ride “The Slides”

On the East Coast, The Slides are some of the only true double black diamond trails. These natural landslide routes run adjacent to Whiteface’s main resort trails. However, you will need to hit the mountain during a good weather period, as The Slides are only open a few times a year, based on snow and safety concerns. To go, have a partner, be sure you have the expert skills needed, and realize that these are the real deal. Added to this last point, have your avalanche gear packed and ready to use.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

2. Tour the Highway

The Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway climbs the backside of the mountain. Besides offering vehicle access to the summit in summer, it serves as a wonderful winter touring route for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. This is typically one of the first early-season spots to do some laps. So, slap on the skins and climb the highway for either a mellow trip down the same route, or for access to the slides that bisect the highway for a fast ride down!

3. Enjoy the Après Ski

Recent upgrades and renovations mean that the Whiteface Resort base lodges offer plenty of options to have a few drinks by the fire after you hit the slopes. However, for great drinks, hearty meals, and live entertainment, head just a few miles north on Route 86 to the four corners in Wilmington, where you will find the Pourman’s Tap House. Depending upon when you’re there, stop by for the après ski specials, live music on Saturdays, and weekly wing nights.

Credit: Florin Chelaru
Credit: Florin Chelaru

4. Hike to the Top

Finished with a day on the black diamond runs and looking for more adventure? You can explore the other sides of the mountain by hiking or snowshoeing the marked hiking trails up to the mountain’s summit. To start, you have a choice of options. For one, begin from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and travel over Marble Mountain. Or, opt for a longer trek, beginning from Connery Pond and then ascending the mountain’s southwest shoulder. Just be prepared: The summit proper is open and exposed to the High Peaks’ notorious winter weather.

5. Spend a Night Out

If you are looking for a wilderness feel or are on a budget, check out the Wilmington KOA campgrounds, located just a few miles from the mountain and open year-round. The KOA offers everything from simple camping cabins to “rough it” to nice multi-room cabins with kitchens and fireplaces that are great for a group. Additionally, if you are up for a true outdoor experience, get your cold-weather gear dialed and camp in one of the lean-tos that surround the Adirondack Loj, about 15 minutes away.

6. Enjoy the Frozen Waterfalls

Just down the road from Whiteface is High Falls Gorge. At any time during the year, use the groomed trails, bridges, and walkways to view over 700 feet of waterfalls and dazzling displays of ice along the mighty Ausable River. Snowshoeing options exist here, as well.

7. Drink With the Locals

If you are willing to take the 15-minute drive to the sleepy village of Au Sable Forks, pick up some of the best hand-tossed pizza and specialty wings at a local favorite, Lance’s Place. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, across the street is 20 Main, the area’s longtime backwoods watering hole. Here, you’ll find friendly bearded locals, cheap drinks, and an old-school indoor shuffleboard.

Credit: Chris Waits
Credit: Chris Waits

8. Be an Olympian

If you head just 15 minutes down the road from the mountain, you can make your way to the Olympic Sports Complex. Here, take a ride on a real Olympic Bobsled or Skeleton run. Or, hear the rumble of the sled rocketing down the track with a professional driver.

9. Meet Santa

If you are visiting with children, be sure to visit the North Pole. Who knew that the North Pole was just minutes away on Whiteface Memorial Highway? Home to Santa’s Workshop, the North Pole is a long-operated winter wonderland, where kids and adults alike can enjoy shows, rides, and attractions that center around Santa Claus himself.

10. Come Back in Summer

Many visit Whiteface to explore its wonderful winter history and activities. But, don’t forget about what it offers in summer. You’ll find world-class mountain biking in the resort itself, and the town’s system of trails has expanded greatly in recent years. As well, the Ausable River offers world-class trout fishing, and for taking a dip, you’ll find plenty of great swimming holes, including “Flume,” a local favorite just a few miles down the road.


8 Tips for Taking Good Pictures in the Snow

You want to preserve the memories of your snowy wintertime outdoor adventures, but taking photos in the snow is hard. Sound familiar? The freezing temperatures make your fingers too numb to press the shutter button. The blinding sun reflects off the snow and into your photos. The beautiful snowflakes are moving so fast, you just can’t seem to capture them. Whether you have a DSLR with all the trimmings or a simple smartphone camera, snow photography is no walk in the park. But, if you want to take great pictures, so you can remember your time in this winter wonderland all summer, these eight tips will help you do it.

1. Keep your camera cold

If you’re out in the elements with an expensive camera, your first instinct might be to keep it warm under your coat, but this is actually a bad idea. In warmer environments, condensation may gather on your camera, fogging up the lens to the point it’s impossible to take a good picture until the moisture has cleared. Keeping your camera the same temperature as the outside air ensures it won’t form condensation when you pull it out.

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2. Use manual mode

Often, a camera or iPhone will look at a snowy scene and automatically dial the exposure down. As a result, the snow comes out gray. As a solution, consider using manual mode and then slightly overexposing your photo. Expose for whatever you want to highlight (trees, a person, etc.). If you’re on an iPhone, change the exposure by simply tapping the screen on top of the object you want to expose, and then, you can tap and hold to lock the exposure.

3. Take advantage of shadows and silhouettes

In wintertime, the sun is lower in the sky, and thus creates longer shadows. These winter shadows may add a unique touch to a photo that otherwise would have been drab. As well, don’t be afraid to take several shots, experimenting with the sun’s placement and how you can best use the shadows. Try using the shadows to create leading lines. For an example, maybe tree shadows can “point” to the person who’s the subject of your photo, creating an interesting effect.

Credit: Hailey Hudson
Credit: Hailey Hudson

4. Use color

If all you can see is white snow, find something colorful to help your photo pop. This could be a person wearing a bright red jacket, a blue sky, or non-snow-covered trees—anything nearby that will add some variation into the frame.

5. Invest in fingerless gloves

Shooting in the snow can be dangerously cold, but if you’re trying to press buttons on your iPhone, you’ll need bare fingertips. Purchase some touchscreen-compatible or fingerless gloves, so you can work your iPhone camera while staying warm.

6. Watch out for footprints

There’s nothing worse than getting your settings just right, snapping some beautiful photos of a snowy scene, and only then realizing the photo is full of footprints. Stand in one place as you think about from where you want to shoot, and then, carefully choose your route to that place. Watch out for your shadow, too.

Credit: Hailey Hudson
Credit: Hailey Hudson

7. Use a lens hood

In the winter, photos often end up with a flare from the sun, because the snow is so reflective. As a solution, use a lens hood to shield your lens. For another benefit, it helps keep the snow off your lens.

8. Move around

Photographing your young hiking buddy? Getting low to the ground to shoot at a kid’s eye level will create a much better photo. Likewise, getting up high on a log or hill helps you capture every bit of a big, snowy meadow. This can also help you find something else to add to the photo, such as distant trees, so the picture includes something other than just white.


Video: Akuna Hikes

This Iraq War vet finds healing along the Appalachian Trail. “I knew that’s where I needed to be.”


How to Tell How Much Fuel is In Your Canister

On a cold, wet, and windy morning in late October, our party huddled in Stony Clove Notch, the halfway point of the Catskills’ infamous Devil’s Path. We were sitting, shivering in the lee of a boulder, and watching a pot of water try to boil when, without warning, the fuel ran out. We checked it, shook it, tried again and again to light it, but that was that—it had kicked. There would be no hot breakfast this morning. There would be no coffee. No. Coffee.

We’d walk off the cold on the climb out of the notch, but we learned two valuable lessons that day. One, nothing takes the wind out of your sails quite like running out of stove fuel, and two, always bring enough.

Because canister stoves use stock container sizes—a common knock when debating the merits of liquid versus gas backpacking stoves—it’s not super easy to tailor the amount of fuel you’re bringing into the backcountry. Short of hauling extra canisters (heavy), or only packing-in full canisters (wasteful), your only option is to measure just how much fuel actually remains in that used canister you’ve got hanging around.

Here are a couple of ways to do just that.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

1. Weigh It

To measure a fuel canister’s contents, weighing it is a reliable and fairly accurate method. This is optimally performed with a digital scale. Kind of a specialty item, these scales aren’t crazy expensive and are a fantastic tool to have in the kitchen if you’re the cooking type. They are not, however, ultralight or especially useful in the field. So, you’ll need to do this exercise at home, before the trip.

Gather two fuel canisters of the same brand—one with some gas left and one empty. Since the exact mixture, manufacture, and packaging vary from company to company, it’s important that the canisters be of the same brand.

This is when you’ll need that digital scale, and since there’s a bit of math involved here, it couldn’t hurt to grab a scrap of paper and a pen—or to open up that calculator app. 

Weigh the empty canister, and record its value. This measurement gives you a baseline for what the container weighs by itself.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Next, weigh the semi-full canister and record this measurement. Now for the arithmetic: Go ahead and subtract the weight of the empty canister from the semi-full canister. The resulting value tells you how much gas you’ve got left.

Fuel weight to burn time ratios vary from stove to stove, however. So, a little research on your specific setup will be necessary to find out how long those ounces will last. Measure that against the needs of your trip, and you’ll have a good idea of what to pack.

Side note: If you’re using Jetboil canisters, the Jetboil JetGauge Canister Weight Scale offers accurate weight measurement in the field. It’s small and packable, and goes one step further for you, converting the weight into a percentage value to represent the remaining fuel. 

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

2. Float It

At home, a digital scale is a luxury, but in the backcountry, it’s an impossibility. Fortunately, thanks to physics and the fuel canister’s natural buoyancy, there’s still a way.

The principle is simple: A full canister weighs more than an empty one. Ergo, the more fuel in the canister, the lower it will float. Start at home with two canisters of the same brand—one full and one empty. You’ll also need a permanent marker and a pot or bowl large enough to hold your canister and a sufficient amount of water to float it.

Fill the vessel with just enough water to submerge a single canister. Then, gently add the full one, tilting it slightly to free up any bubbles that got caught in the concavity underneath. Also, be sure not to get any water in the little area around the valve, as this will skew your reading.

Let the canister settle, and check the water line. Once it’s not moving around as much, take it out of the vessel, and mark the water line with a permanent marker. For accuracy, a good move here is to eyeball a feature printed on the canister that lines up with that water line.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Now, repeat the process with the empty canister. At this point, you’ll clearly notice the difference in where the water line hits.

Finally, line up both canisters on a flat surface and copy the marks from one to the next, so that each has an approximate “full” and “empty” line. Provided you’re using the same brand of fuel moving forward, you can keep one of these marked canisters to use as a template to mark future ones.

Some companies, like MSR and Jetboil, have taken to printing “fuel gauges” on their canisters. This cuts the advance work out of the picture and allows you to measure your available fuel on the fly.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Honorable Mentions

There are no doubt hordes of OGs out there who swear by the shake method, and that’s cool. For reference, this is when you shake a used canister to see if there’s anything left and make a judgement by touch and heft. It can work, too, but only to a very rough degree of totally subjective accuracy. The method also relies heavily on experience. So, if you’re new to your camp stove, keep away from this approach.

You can also combine your knowledge with the information provided by your stove’s manufacturer. For example, an MSR Reactor stove set up with a 1L pot should—according to the manufacturer—burn through an 8 oz. canister in approximately 80 minutes, producing 20 liters of water in the process. Unless you’re on a trip that requires melting snow as a water supply, that’s enough to last a single person for a week—10 days if you’re stretching it. If you can keep track of just how many times you took your canister out, and roughly how much you used it each time, you can get a decent estimate. Unlike weighing or floating, though, you’re still essentially making a guess rather than taking a measurement.

No Substitute for Experience

At the end of the day, preparedness relies on experience, and there’s no way to get that but to spend the time. The more you get out there, the more you’ll know about which type of stove fits your needs, and how much fuel you’ll need to bring along. Waking up without coffee is a bummer, but when you’re really out there, a working stove—that you know how to use and are comfortable with—can be the difference between a good trip and a serious situation.

So, give these methods a shot and let us know which works best for you.


Opinion: Connecticut Is Playing Catch-Up on Public Lands

Connecticut Residents Should Vote “Yes” On Question 2

Over the past few years, the debate over public lands and conservation has been a national political flash point. The reductions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments, the reopening of mining in the Boundary Waters, and attacks on pro-environmental policies illustrate the attitude current officials have toward conservation. It’s a grim picture.

But, there is a chance for some good news. This November, protecting public lands at the local level has made it onto the ballot.

Protecting state-owned land in Connecticut is of critical importance. It preserves our heritage, it protects our natural resources and wildlife habitats, and it provides much-needed open space in one of the country’s most densely-populated states. If you’ve spent any time in the Nutmeg State, you know what I’m talking about. Names like Hammonasset Beach, Squantz Pond, and Sleeping Giant likely evoke pleasant memories of days spent outside. As much as grinders, white clam pizza, and the Hartford Whalers, they’re an inextricable part of the state’s culture.

However, if you can believe it, these places are essentially unprotected. They can be sold, traded, or given away without the public’s input, in the dead of night, over a handshake deal. It sounds insane, but it has actually happened before.

Come November 6th, though, it doesn’t have to happen again.

Paugussett State Forest, Upper Block in Newtown | Credit: John Lepak
Paugussett State Forest, Upper Block in Newtown | Credit: John Lepak

Understanding Question 2

“Question 2” is simple. Essentially, it asks if the state’s constitution should be amended to protect these places. A “yes” vote would mean two things. One, the transference of state-owned land would need to be subjected to a public forum. Secondly, any such transference would require a two-thirds majority vote by the state’s legislature. While it seems pretty straightforward, it’s not entirely unprecedented, either. Massachusetts and New York already have similar provisions in their respective constitutions, as does Maine.

Our neighboring states seem to realize that retaining public lands is significantly more valuable than their price tag would suggest. Forget about natural beauty and a clean water supply for a moment. Instead, looking at the purely pragmatic, bottom-line-numbers side, they make money. Fees collected at state parks, forests, and beaches generate revenue, and their operation and maintenance create jobs. Beyond that, dollars spent at businesses adjacent to these public lands offer a significant boost to those local economies. Meaning, again, public lands help generate more money and more jobs—two things Connecticut just happens to really, really need right now.

So, here’s what you can do: If you live in Connecticut, vote “yes” on Question 2 on November 6th to protect Connecticut’s state parks, forests, and beaches for generations to come. If you don’t live in Connecticut and are interested in safeguarding your state’s public lands, call up your local representative to see what’s what. Maybe you can get yourself a constitutional amendment of your own.


The Best Outdoor Adventures Near Our New Hyannis Store

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Big news! Eastern Mountain Sports is reopening its Hyannis, Mass., store, so outdoor enthusiasts on the Cape can be equipped with the right gear for all sorts of coastal adventures. To celebrate, we asked the employee experts at the new Hyannis location about their favorite local spots. So, to plan your next trip, start with their recommendations, and swing through the new shop for all the gear you need and even more expert beta!

Where to Go & What to Do

Hathaway Pond is a small, 20-acre natural kettle hole pond, perfect for paddling around and looking down into the depths. Visibility is excellent, extending to 23 feet. The bottom is composed of rubble and sand, and is also a hot spot for local scuba divers. For those interested in staying dry, an easy walking trail roughly one-mile long loops around the whole pond, and it’s great for families and dogs. Pro tip: Next summer, it will be the location of the shop’s demo days!

Another local favorite is The Trail of Tears, a 1,200-acre parcel of conservation land in the village of West Barnstable. As one of Cape Cod’s treasures and a prime bike riding area, it’s a hot spot for mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and cross-country skiing.

Nickerson State Park is a state-owned, public recreation area of more than 1,900 acres in Brewster, Mass. The sandy soil and scrub pines surround many kettle ponds, the largest of which are Cliff, Flax, Little Cliff, and Higgins Ponds. Ruth, Keeler’s, Eel, and Triangle Ponds provide additional water habitats. This is a great, fun place for people to go in the summer and off-season! We love the easy access to water, hiking, and camping. It’s also amazing in the winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

A hub for kayakers who love the shallow bay for its scenery and wildlife, Washburn Island and Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is a coastal playground. Paddlers can also camp on Washburn Island, a rare untouched tract of land on the Cape. Here, you’ll find hiking trails weaving through oak and pine, as well as beaches and salty ponds. As a note, paddling from the inner harbor takes a couple of hours, and for camping, make reservations in advance.

Do you have another favorite Cape Cod adventure?


Alpha Guide: The Carter Range Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Challenging terrain, breathtaking views, and the summits of six New Hampshire 4,000-footers combine to make the Carter Range Traverse one of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains.

Rugged but weather-protected terrain, fantastic views of Mount Washington and the northern Presidentials, a multiplicity of camping options, all without the crowds of some of New Hampshire’s better-known overnights, and foliage that’s among the best in the Whites make this a must-do fall point-to-point backpacking trip. And, for those who want to go luxurious and light, there’s even an Appalachian Mountain Club hut that’s right in the middle of the traverse.

Many hikers begin the Carter Range Traverse at the Carter-Moriah Trailhead on Bangor Street in Gorham. They then head south on the Carter-Moriah, Wildcat Ridge, and Lost Pond Trails for 17-plus miles, crossing six 4,000-footers before ending at Pinkham Notch on Route 16.

Quick Facts

Distance: 17 miles, thru-hike.*
Time to Complete: 2 to 3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: Late-May to early November (Late September to early October for the best foliage)
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain 

*The AMC Guidebook lists this hike ar roughly 20 miles, but our GPX and other independent sources have tracked it as less.

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Turn-By-Turn

Getting to the Carter-Moriah Trailhead is simple. Bangor Street is across from the Androscoggin Valley Country Club on Route 2 in Gorham. From Conway, follow Route 16 North approximately 24 miles to Route 2. Take a right onto Route 2, and look for Bangor Street on your right about a mile down the road. There’s a small hikers’ parking lot a few houses before the end of the street. Park there, and then, walk down to the trailhead (44.3822, -71.1694) at the end of the street.

If you have two cars, leave one at each trailhead. For an alternative, take advantage of the shuttle service provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club. For leaving a car at Pinkham Notch, it’s even easier to find than the Carter-Moriah Trailhead, as it’s right in the middle of Gorham and Conway. If you’re coming from Gorham, just follow Route 16 South for roughly 12 miles, and the building will be on your right. When you’re coming from Conway, Pinkham Notch is roughly 12 miles past the Glen intersection on Route 16 South, and the building will be on your left.

Although there’s limited parking at the Carter-Moriah Trailhead, the Libby Memorial Pool off Route 16 has additional parking. If you end up parking there, it is just a short road walk to the trailhead. As an added bonus, you get to cross a cool hikers-only suspension bridge to get to the trailhead.

Looking northeast from an overlook near Mount Moriah's summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking northeast from an overlook near Mount Moriah’s summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Moriah

On the way to Moriah’s summit, the Carter-Moriah Trail (CMT) gains more than 3,000 feet of elevation over the course of 4.5 miles. The trail itself is easy to follow but relatively nondescript, with the most notable feature being the rock ledge near the summit of Mount Surprise. If you haven’t taken a break yet, this is a good spot, as it is almost halfway to the summit.

After 4.5 miles of uphill terrain, you’ll reach a short spur trail that leads toward Mount Moriah’s summit ledge (44.3403, -71.1315). The views from the summit and surrounding area are among the best in the Whites, with the Northern Presidentials to the west, the Wild River Wilderness and Maine to the east, and portions of the traverse visible to the south.

In the woods near the start of the Carter-Moriah Trail. | Credit: Douglas Martland
In the woods near the start of the Carter-Moriah Trail. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Moriah to Imp Shelter

From Moriah’s summit, head south on the CMT. After a few minutes, you’ll come to a short, exposed downclimb that can be tricky. Be especially careful if you’re carrying a heavy pack. At the junction at the bottom of the downclimb, keep right to stay on the Carter-Moriah Trail. Although the junction is well signed, if you have any doubts from here on out, you’ll be following the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes, so there’s really no excuse for getting lost.

The trail then meanders across ledges and open slab, with great views east into the Wild River Wilderness and Maine’s forests and mountains. Eventually, the trail begins to descend steeply over the open slabs without compromising those views. Along the way, you’ll come across several fantastic overlooks, where you’ll probably find hikers ascending Moriah from the south pausing to catch their breath. Use caution when descending, however, as this section is often icy.

About 1.5 miles from the summit, the trail drops back into the trees, where it begins to flatten out. Almost immediately, you’ll arrive at a well-signed junction with the Moriah Brook Trail, but you’ll want to stay on the CMT. Soon thereafter, the trail crosses a boardwalk through a marsh area before coming to the Stony Brook Trail junction. At the junction, remain on the CMT for 0.75 miles, until you come to a spur trail for the Imp Shelter.

Coming up the Stony Brook Trail and skipping Moriah is an easier way to reach the Imp Shelter. It’s a great option for those starting late in the day on the first day of their trip or for those looking to do a single-day range traverse.

Down a short spur trail, there’s a shelter (44.3291, -71.1502) and five tent platforms (available for $10), with a caretaker present during summer months, as well. Tucked in the shadow of Imp Mountain, this is a great place to spend the night if you’re doing a three-day trip. If you’re doing the traverse in two days, consider pushing on, as you’ve only done one-third of the mileage.

Pro Tip: Since the stream at Imp Shelter is the last reliable water source before Carter Notch, it’s a good idea to refill here.

Looking back on Carter Ridge from Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking back on Carter Ridge from Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Up North Carter

If you spent the night at Imp Shelter, the early-morning hike up North Carter on the Carter-Moriah Trail can be a rude awakening. It’s steep and rough, gaining 1,400 feet over the course of roughly two miles. More so, it is probably the traverse’s hardest part, so take your time—there’s a long day ahead.

If you’re looking to catch your breath, a few spots on the way up North Carter have good views north toward Moriah. You might miss them, though, when heading uphill, since you’ll be facing the wrong direction.

About 1.6 miles from the shelter, you’ll stumble onto North Carter’s summit (44.3131, -71.1645). Although it is 4,530 feet in height, the Appalachian Mountain Club doesn’t consider North Carter a 4,000-footer. The col on the ridge from Middle Carter only descends 60 feet (18 m), thus making North Carter a secondary summit of that peak.

Mount Hight and Carter Dome from South Carter. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Mount Hight and Carter Dome from South Carter. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Ridge Running the Carters

Once you’ve climbed to the ridgeline, the CMT mellows considerably along the rolling Carter Ridge. As well, trees shelter the ridgeline, offering great protection from the weather. Occasionally, breaks in the trees offer views both to the east (Maine, the Baldface Range, and the Wild River Wilderness) and to the west (the Northern Presidentials). And, because Carter Ridge isn’t a straight line, a few opportunities offer a glimpse of what lies ahead.

About a mile from North Carter’s summit, the trail surmounts Middle Carter (44.3031, -71.1673). Although you’ll get great views before and after the summit, the summit itself is wooded and nondescript. And, because you’re near a wilderness area, the summit itself isn’t signed. Look, instead, for a cairn.

From Middle Carter, the trail descends gradually to the col between Middle and South Carter. At this point, it climbs gently toward the summit of the latter peak (44.2898, -71.1762). About a half-mile from the col, be on the lookout for a very short spur trail to South Carter’s official summit. Again, there are no signs, but it is pretty hard to miss the small cairn. And, although the summit has no real views, an outlook sits a few steps away on the other side of the trail. Your next objectives—Mount Hight and Carter Dome—dominate the horizon to the south.

To reach them, continue south on the CMT for 0.8 miles as it heads downhill toward Zeta Pass. While it descends quickly at first, it then meanders through the woods and over boardwalks as it nears the pass.

The Northern Presidential Range from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The Northern Presidential Range from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Carter Dome and the Mount Hight Detour

From Zeta Pass, the Carter-Moriah and Carter Dome Trails temporarily merge, both headed for Carter Dome’s summit. Soon, however, they split at a junction (44.2789, -71.1737), with the CMT taking a slightly longer route with a detour to the outstanding overlook atop Mount Hight. If time is of the essence and you want to skip Mount Hight, take the Carter Dome Trail (blue blazes) directly to the top of Carter Dome. It saves about 0.2 miles, but you’ll be skipping one of the hike’s key highlights.

To get to Mount Hight, a subpeak of Carter Dome, simply continue following the AT’s white rectangular blazes. After a few minutes, the trail begins to climb steeply. Although some effort is involved, keep hiking: The alpine zone and 360-degree views of the Presidentials, the sections of the Carter Range you’ve traversed so far, and the Wild River Wilderness are well worth it. When you can peel yourself away from the summit (44.2759, -71.1702), continue along the CMT and AT, until it intersects with the Carter Dome Trail, a short distance below Carter Dome.

Compared to Hight, Carter Dome is unimpressive, with a small open space and some competing summit cairns (44.2674, -71.1792). The summit’s northwestern side also has an overlook toward the Northern Presidentials.

Fall foliage behind Carter Lake. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Fall foliage behind Carter Lake. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Carter Notch

From Carter Dome, the CMT descends into Carter Notch. Here, the trail is steep with several sections where you’ll want to watch your footing. About halfway down the trail is a nice overlook, where you can see the Carter Notch Hut with Wildcat Ridge as a backdrop.

The CMT spills out into Carter Notch at the junction at Carter Lake. If you’re spending the night at the Carter Notch Hut (44.2588, -71.1951) or just looking for snacks and water, follow a short spur trail left, past two small lakes for 0.1 miles. Built in 1914, the hut offers full services during the summer months, as well as self-service during the rest of the year. Those thinking of spending the night in one of the two bunkhouses can make reservations with the AMC.

If you’re continuing on toward Wildcat Ridge, turn right instead, following the trail along the edge of Carter Lake and then up as it begins to climb out of the Notch. Since the trails around Carter Notch are maze-like, pay careful attention, so you don’t get lost and lose any time.

Fall foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Fall foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Up Wildcat Ridge

Whether you spent the night at the hut or continued to push on, the 0.7-mile climb up Wildcat A is a tough one. The trail travels continuously over rough terrain, gaining elevation with a series of long, traversing switchbacks. Since the best views are behind you, use that as an excuse if you need to take a break.

You’ll know you’re near the summit when the trail briefly levels out. The summit (44.2590, -71.2015) itself is inconspicuous—just a small cairn a few feet off the trail. But, just before, an overlook delivers good views of Carter Dome, the Notch, and the Hut.

Mount Washington with Tuckerman (left) and Huntington (right) Ravines from below Wildcat C. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Mount Washington with Tuckerman (left) and Huntington (right) Ravines from below Wildcat C. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Across the Ridge

Wildcat Ridge rolls along across Wildcat’s five named peaks—A, B, C, D, and E. Although only two count as official 4,000-footers (A and D), you’ll still have to earn each one, as even their short elevation gains seem like real work this late in the traverse.

The most notable of the subpeaks is C, mainly because of the stellar views of Mt. Washington’s Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines on the descent. Be careful, as well, on the descent off C into Wildcat Col; a few of the sections require some easy downclimbing.

The sights and sounds of civilization indicate you’ve climbed out of the col and are nearing the summit overlook atop Wildcat D (44.2493, -71.235). It’s the first summit on the trip that’ll be crowded with non-hikers—Wildcat’s gondola runs near D’s summit on fall weekends—but you can at least appreciate that your climb up was much more challenging. And, if the crowds are minimal or it’s off-hours, the observation platform is a great place to admire Mount Washington.

The trail approaching Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The trail approaching Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Down to Pinkham

From the overlook, the trail meanders over Wildcat E and soon thereafter begins to descend. Easily one of the Whites’ hardest hikes, descending the Wildcat Ridge Trail may be even more demanding than ascending it. Rocky, slabby, and at times extremely steep, the trail even features rock and wooden steps to ease hiking on such vertical terrain. As it plummets down two miles and roughly 2,000 feet of elevation, people who are carrying big packs, have tired legs, or are uncomfortable negotiating exposed terrain should consider taking the shortcut down the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area.

Near the bottom of the Wildcat Ridge Trail, take the Lost Pond Trail for an easy 0.9 miles to Pinkham Notch. Although this route is longer than just finishing out the Wildcat Ridge Trail, it eliminates the need to cross the Ellis River.

As another reason doing the traverse from north to south is advantageous, after passing the final summit, hikers can quickly scamper down the ski slope to the resort’s parking area, instead of continuing on the steep and rugged Wildcat Ridge Trail to the Glen Ellis Falls Trailhead. The preferred hiking trail is the Polecat Trail, a 2.2-mile green circle that gently weaves down the mountain. From Wildcat, hikers can do a quick road march back to Pinkham Notch.


The Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland

The Kit

  • The EMS Refugio 2 Tent is a great choice for those who feel that staying in the hut is too luxurious but aren’t psyched on going super-lightweight. Weighing roughly a pound and a half more than its ultralight sibling, the Velocity 2, the Refugio delivers plenty of space to stretch out and has voluminous vestibules for storing gear.
  • The Sawyer Mini Filter makes access to potable drinking water easy. Simply screw it onto a water bottle or rig it to your hydration bladder. Or, even drink right from the source using the included straw.
  • After a long day on the trail, appetites are high, but the motivation to cook is low. A canister stove like the Jetboil Flash makes preparing dinner as easy as pushing a button.
  • Super small and compact, the Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pad is perfect for keeping pack size down and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to comfort.
  • The EMS Mountain Light 20 is warm, compressible, and cozy, making it perfect for trips like the Carter Range Traverse. Open the super-versatile bag up for unseasonably warm weather, or wear your jacket to bed and cinch the hood for those cold fall nights.

Foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Keys to the Trip

  • From mid-September through mid-May, the AMC’s Carter Notch Hut is self-serve. During the self-service season, a bed is provided and so is the use of the hut’s stove, cookware, and utensils. While neither dinner nor breakfast is offered during the self-serve season, you can ditch the weight of a tent and stove. The cost is $45 a night for AMC members and $54 a night for non-members. However, it’s always a good idea to reserve a place in the hut in advance.
  • Although the Carter Wildcat Traverse is pretty straightforward, it’s always smart to carry a map, and the White Mountains Waterproof Trail Map is a good one. In addition to being helpful in the event you get turned around, it’s also perfect for getting stoked before your trip and scheming up the next traverse once you’ve checked the Carter Range Traverse from your list.
  • After a couple long days of GORP, granola, and freeze-dried meals, you deserve something decadent. Treat yourself to an incredible cupcake (or two) from White Mountain Cupcakery.

Current Conditions

Have you recently hiked in the Carters or Wildcats? Have you done the complete traverse? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments!


LNT For Your Feed: Understanding the New Social Media Guidelines

New technological developments have changed our experiences in the backcountry. Particularly, the ever-common smartphone is now a staple, functioning as a map, flashlight, camera, and more. However, complete reliance on a smartphone can get someone into serious trouble.

A drained battery is not the only threat, though. Social media has popularized the outdoor lifestyle, leading to more and more people sharing their views and experiences online and thus increasing traffic at popular destinations. This, in turn, has led to erosion and overcrowding at places not yet ready to handle such heavy use. However, if used to advocate for stewardship, social media can be beneficial.

Contrary to popular belief, Leave No Trace (LNT) is not just the phrase angrily grumbled by a grizzly hiker as he picks up an energy bar wrapper off the trail to pack it out. Rather, LNT is an organization that advocates for sustainable outdoor ethics. In line with that mission, it recently released new guidelines regarding social media use—particularly, for protecting these spaces and ultimately strengthening our relationship with the outdoors. So, how does the everyday hiker make sense of these recommendations, and what shouldn’t you be doing?

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Tag thoughtfully

“Avoid tagging (or geotagging) specific locations. Instead, tag a general location such as a state or region, if any at all. While tagging can seem innocent, it can also lead to significant impacts to particular places.”

Our social media posts have far-reaching impacts. What seems benign may actually end up drawing masses to the site featured in your post. In turn, the larger crowds contribute to erosion and may complicate relationships with landowners. While some areas can handle heavy use, like the above cascade in the Catskills, many destinations are not equipped for the increased foot traffic.

DO: Post something along the lines of, “Enjoying this refreshing mist on a hot day in the Catskills!” Consider tagging the mountain range or region of the state, rather than a specific place.

DON’T: Tag the exact location of a vista, or mention any shortcuts to get to a destination.

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Be mindful of what your images portray

“Give some thought to what your images may encourage others to do. Images that demonstrate good Leave No Trace practices and stewardship are always in style.”

Our posts should empower others to take care of our lands. Before you post, ask yourself if the content you are sharing is geared towards sustainability and respect for our natural spaces. Think about how you will view the post in five or 10 years—it is never fun to look back and cringe.

DO: Post photos of area cleanups, or artistic and creative landscape shots that depict pristine wilderness, thus encouraging people to keep it that way. Remember: “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footsteps.”

DON’T: Post photos of yourself or friends doing something dangerous or photos that may encourage others to harm themselves, others, or the land. As well, don’t show photos of you littering or camping in areas you’re not allowed.

Give back to places you love

“Invest your own sweat equity into the outdoor spaces and places you care about. Learn about volunteer stewardship opportunities and get involved in the protection of our shared lands.”

Nature gives us experiences and memories that we cherish forever. We can give back by cleaning up litter, maintaining trails, keeping our own impact minimal, and inspiring others to do the same through social media.

DO: Leave no trace, pick up litter and pack it out, follow the trails, and post photos promoting group cleanups.

DON’T: Litter, draw graffiti, damage plants, break trail, or post photos encouraging these behaviors.

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Encourage and inspire Leave No Trace in social media posts

“Given the millions of social media users in the world, think of the incredible potential that social media has to educate outdoor enthusiasts—first timers to seasoned adventurers—about enjoying our wild lands responsibly.”

We sometimes see the effects of people leaving traces in the backcountry, which, then, influence our own experience. Greenhorn adventurers may not even realize that they are leaving a trace, such as when they leave obvious markings of a campsite. Even experienced adventurers sometimes violate LNT! Thus, we can use social media to educate others, regardless of their level of outdoor experience.

DO: If you see something in the outdoors that does not follow LNT principles, make an informational post to educate others!

DON’T: Post a photo of feeding wildlife, including summit chipmunks, or post aggressively or angrily about situations where LNT principles were broken (this may discourage people from listening!)

 

What other dos and don’ts would you add? Comment below!