6 Long Adirondack Day Hikes for the Solstice

The weeks surrounding the summer solstice, which starts on June 21st, let you take advantage of extended daylight hours to tackle a challenging hike. And, for people looking to get the most out of the longest days of the year, the Adirondacks are chock-full of demanding, full-day treks.

Getting any of these long hikes done in a single day is no small feat, so preparation is key. Train your body to be in good hiking condition, pack a headlamp just in case, and become extra familiar with your route. Also, most of these recommended hikes have a “bail out” option, in case you’re losing light or energy.

The hikes listed below all begin from different trailheads. So, if you’re feeling ambitious and complete a few of these, you’ll be covering new territory with each trek.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Gray Peak, Mount Skylight, and Mount Marcy

Distance: 17 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,200 feet
Trail Head: Adirondack Loj / Heart Lake
Route Type: Loop (recommended counterclockwise).

Aim for good weather during this hike. On a clear day, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for expansive views on Marcy’s and Skylight’s mighty bald summits. And, despite Gray having a wooded peak, a few lookouts offer good views of both Skylight and Marcy. To prepare, be sure to bring an extra pair of socks, because you’ll cross the infamous floating boards relatively early on. These are nearly impossible to walk over without soaking a boot.

From the Adirondack Loj, head south past Lake Arnold to Feldspar Brook, and then, climb to the three peaks. Perhaps the loop’s best part is the pleasure of hiking Marcy, New York’s highest point, via the southwestern approach. This breathtaking route is almost entirely above the treeline and is much less crowded than the northern approach on which you’ll descend. Other notable sights include the picturesque Lake Tear of the Clouds, which is the state’s highest pond and the Hudson River’s source.

As you return, follow the Van Hoevenberg Trail back to your car from Marcy and past Indian Falls, where the late-afternoon sunlight looks marvelous bouncing off the flowing water.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Mount Haystack, Basin Mountain, and Saddleback Mountain

Distance: 17.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,600 feet
Trail Head: Garden Parking Lot (Marcy Field when lot is full, serviced by shuttle)
Route Type: Loop (recommended counterclockwise).

Also known as the Upper Great Range and often shortened to “HaBaSa,” this hike bags three High Peaks, which of course means lots of climbing.

First, climb through the Johns Brook Valley to Haystack. As the trek’s most memorable part, the outstanding views of the surrounding mountains rival the notorious cliffs leading up to Saddleback. As you head north from Haystack, you’ll pass over Basin before summiting Saddleback via the cliffs. These have a reputation for being the High Peaks’ most difficult terrain, although much of it is a mental test. Hikers generally prefer ascending to descending them. After Saddleback, follow Ore Bed Brook back down to Johns Brook via a seemingly endless sets of stairs, which follow a striking slide formed by Hurricane Irene.

A perk of this hike is the availability of water via a spigot at Johns Brook Lodge, which is located 3.5 miles from the parking lot and gets passed both on your way in and out. It’s also a great place to rest your feet, relax on the deck, and make a few new friends.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Sawteeth Mountain, Gothics Mountain, Armstrong Mountain, Upper Wolfjaw Mountain, and Lower Wolfjaw Mountain

Distance: 17 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,500 feet
Trailhead: Adirondack Mountain Club at Ausable Club
Route Type: Loop (recommended clockwise).

You’ll definitely be earning your summit time with some serious climbing. But, if you end up feeling like you’ve taken on too much, a few trails along the way lead down from the range. Hike up the Lake Road and climb the Weld Trail to Sawteeth, the peak farthest out, to assess the day’s itinerary, as it affords an excellent view of the range you’ll be climbing. Beginning with the most remote peak also provides the mental boost of knowing you’re working your way back towards the trailhead for the rest of the day. Then, continue north to the remaining mountains before doubling back briefly on Lower Wolfjaw and descending along Wedge Brook to Lake Road.

As a tip, try to pick a day with clear skies, as you’ll be treated to panoramic views of adjacent peaks and spectacular slides. Be sure to carry enough water, too. Once you’re on the range, you’ll find few places to refill, and the continuous climbing and exposure can easily dehydrate you.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Macomb Mountain, South Dix, East Dix, Hough, and Dix Mountain

Distance: 16 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,700 feet
Trailhead: Elk Lake
Route: Loop (recommended counterclockwise).

The Dix Range is another loop that will bag you five High Peaks and set your quads on fire. Most of the trails are unmarked, so be sure to bring a map that shows all of the herd paths and to reference it at all intersections you encounter. Also, be sure to get to the trailhead early. If the parking lot is full, you’ll have to park back near Clear Pond, which will add 3.5 miles round-trip to an already-strenuous hike.

From Elk Lake, head north to climb the Macomb slide. Unlike most of the other Adirondack slides, which are hard rock slab, Macomb is loose rock and gravel. So, keep a safe distance between people in your group, and look up for falling debris. From there, keep climbing north, ticking off individual peaks in whichever order makes sense to you.

You’ll end the day on the range’s highest peak, Dix, which offers sweeping views of the rest of the range, other High Peaks to the north and west, and the serene Elk Lake. To return, descend over The Beckhorn back to the Elk Lake Trail.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Cliff Mountain and Mount Redfield 

Distance: 18.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,400 feet
Trailhead: Upper Works Trailhead
Route: Out and back.

Cliff and Redfield are relatively remote High Peaks. Thus, the hike is essentially a long walk to get to the base of the two mountains. If you’re an aspiring 46er, it’s strongly recommended to hike these peaks together.

From Upper Works, you’ll hike past the beautiful Flowed Lands and cross the Opalescent River via a suspension bridge—both peaceful places to rest or have a snack. The trails for each mountain begin close to the Uphill Lean-To. By foot, these are just a few seconds from one another, so hike them in whichever order you like. Redfield has a marked trail, which is longer and gains more elevation than Cliff. Living up to its name, Cliff has a few areas of rock scrambling, although nothing too technical, and can be quite fun after the uncomplicated walk-in.

On the hike out, pause at the Flowed Lands to refuel and rehydrate for the last leg, which can feel monotonous when you do it a second time after the long way up.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Santanoni Peak, Couchsachraga Peak, and Panther Peak 

Distance: 15.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,000 feet
Trailhead: Tahawus/Upper Works Road
Route: Part out-and-back, and part loop.

Although not quite as long in distance as the other hikes, the Santanoni Range takes some time due to unmarked and unmaintained trails, which can be rugged and rocky. This hike is a good alternative if the weather is going to be gloomy, because, although the various lookouts offer great views, all three summits are mostly wooded. But, as a perk of being in the woods for most of the day, your exposure will be limited.

Couchsachraga (or “Couchie”) is usually climbed only on the pursuit to become a 46er. So you’re aware, you’ll encounter a sizable bog on the way to the summit. And, due to the peak being initially surveyed incorrectly at over 4,000 feet, anyone wanting to become a 46er must hike through it.

Overall, the range is fairly remote, and with less-crowded trails than those in the more popular High Peak areas, it makes a good option for those busy holiday weekends. And, since the first 1.75 miles is an easy trek on a dirt and gravel road, starting or finishing in the dark isn’t a major concern.


Putting Techwick to the Test on the Devil's Path

Growing up across the Hudson River from the Catskill Mountains, I often heard murmurings of an especially difficult and rugged trail called the Devil’s Path. It wasn’t until I was a bit older, flipping through an article in one of my favorite outdoor magazines, that I saw the Devil’s Path listed as one of the “Eight Most Challenging Hiking Trails in the Country.” In the country! I could hardly believe it—right here on the East Coast, just two hours north of the Big Apple’s relentless bustle. I had to go and check it out for myself.

Credit: Lucas Kelly
Credit: Lucas Kelly

What To Expect

Before hitting the trail, I did some research to get the lowdown on precisely what kind of punishment would be in store for me. The 22 mile-long trail features roughly 18,000 feet of elevation change and hits six Catskill summits, along with a number of tricky rock scrambles and unrelenting, rugged terrain to navigate. As a side note, five of the summits are above 3,500 feet, making it an enticing hike for would-be members of the Catskill 3500 Club. The adventurer in me felt ecstatic. The pessimist? Well, let’s just say that I expected it to be Type II fun.

Many people make short day hikes of one or two summits on the Devil’s Path. Others thru-hike it in two to three days. The most experienced and fit complete the entire thing in one long, leg-torching day. Due to work obligations, I had to break the hike up into consecutive spring weekends. The weather was very warm for spring, teetering on downright hot at some points in the middle of the day. The lack of a breeze meant two things: sweating and mosquitoes.

To prepare, my buddy and I chose to hike in the EMS Techwick Essentials Long-Sleeve Crew and the ¼ Zip, respectively. Putting in close to 10 miles in a single shot, we selected this type of top because we wanted something that felt super soft and lightweight. And, we needed something that would wick away sweat from our skin and keep us feeling cool and dry throughout the slog.

Credit: Lucas Kelly
Credit: Lucas Kelly

Roller Coaster Hike

We began the path at the Prediger Road trailhead. After a brief, flat introduction, the first of many uphill grinds greeted us: a steep, 1,345-foot climb up Indian Head, all the while scrambling up and over large rocks, gnarled roots, and boulders. Near the top of the mountain, we clambered our way up a near-vertical rock chute, where a fall likely would have meant a broken leg.

After making it through, however, we were rewarded with a stunning lookout of the Hudson River and surrounding Catskill Mountains. After snapping a few pictures, we followed the red trail markers descending down into a notch, only to encounter the next scramble up Twin Mountain.

In a sense, this first section of the Devil’s Path foreshadowed the rest: Hit a summit, hike down into a deep valley, and then claw our way back up to the top of another peak. The dense forest throughout gave the trail an aura of real wilderness. As well, uneven, jagged rocks litter the trail, so your ankles are going to take a beating. The amount of mobility the trail required surprised me: Reach up to grab a rock hold here, jump down from a boulder there, and make your way around a fallen tree.

Credit: Lucas Kelly
Credit: Lucas Kelly

Staying Comfortable

Luckily for us, our Techwick shirts’ mechanical stretch allowed for a greater range of movement, making all of these tasks much less difficult and cumbersome. On past long distance hikes that required a similar amount scrambling, I’ve had problems with chafing around my underarms and shoulders. This time, the flatlock seams of my Techwick top helped to prevent any such feeling. This made the uncomfortable task of hiking the Devil’s Path much more tolerable for me by comparison. I was also impressed with how quickly the shirt dried following the trek’s strenuous, sweaty sections.

As we came to the end, I decided that the Devil’s Path had lived up to the hype. If I could describe the trail in one word, it would be relentless. With the summits of Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, Plateau, and West Kill under your belt, you’re definitely going to feel sore afterwards, which will be slightly alleviated by your sense of accomplishment.

What’s more, the beautiful vistas that you get near the mountaintops are some of the Catskills’ best. You’ll come away with a very true sense of what hiking here is all about. While the Devil’s Path may not have the altitude or grandeur of some of the hikes out west, it certainly stacks up as being just as rugged and demanding.

Credit: Lucas Kelly
Credit: Lucas Kelly

Explore Like a Local: Summertime Fun in Lake Placid, NY

The name Lake Placid immediately conjures images of winter sports, given that the Olympics have been held in this beautiful Adirondack town not once, but twice. Even today, it’s such a winter staple that numerous U.S. Olympic teams train regularly in the area. Summertime in the area can be overlooked, but the lack of snow and ice hardly diminishes Lake Placid as a destination, and you definitely don’t need to be an Olympian to take advantage of it all. With a plethora of hiking, climbing, paddling options, and more, Lake Placid is a true year-round outdoor destination.

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Warm-Weather Activities

Hiking & Trail Running

With 46 High Peaks, or peaks originally thought to be over 4,000 ft., along with numerous lakes, the Adirondacks have many different trail types to choose from, particularly near Lake Placid. One popular, family-friendly hike is Cobble Hill, which is visible from town and just across Mirror Lake. A family with kids can make the summit in under an hour and enjoy views of town and the High Peaks area.

If you’re up for a longer hike and are looking for a big payoff, set out for Indian Head, a low summit with truly amazing views of Lower Ausable Lake (pronounced awe•SAY•ble). The land is part of the privately owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR), but hikers are allowed to access the three-plus mile dirt road that leads to the trailhead. Allow for at least five hours round trip and bring plenty of water! Public parking is available in the St. Huberts parking area on Route 73, south of Lake Placid.

The Ausable Chasms are a natural wonder of the Adirondacks, and hiking the area’s trails is well worth the $17.95 admission price ($9.95 for kids).

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Rock Climbing

The Adirondacks have over 250 climbing areas, and Keene Valley, just south of town, serves as the epicenter, given its wide variety of climbs. Just a short drive away, the Beer Walls await both beginners and experts alike. Route 73 has convenient parking, and it’s a quick hike to the top of the climbing area. All the routes here can be led, but top-roping is the standard means of access. Climbing routes range in difficulty from 5.4 up to 5.13, and the views of Keene Valley are spectacular.

The EMS Climbing School guides lead climbing trips to all of the local spots and for all different levels of expertise. The school is located in the lower level of the town’s EMS store.

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Paddling

Let’s face it: This is Lake Placid. Whether you set out on Lake Placid proper or Mirror Lake, which abuts Main Street, this is one spectacular spot to hit the water. Surrounded by mountains in all directions and the town on one side, these lakes are remarkably beautiful. At dusk and dawn, prepare to be thrilled by the call of the loon and other indigenous creatures. Lake Placid allows motorized boats, while Mirror Lake is reserved for human-powered crafts (electric motors are allowed but rarely seen).

Our EMS store on Main Street backs up to Mirror Lake, and we rent kayaks, tandem kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) directly on the water. Seriously, you can launch a boat from the back of the store. How cool is that? Click here for more info.

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Swimming

In addition to the lakes, the area has other wonderful places to swim. A particularly scenic spot is at the base of the Flume Falls on the Ausable River, north of town. Park in the Wildfire Flume Trailhead lot, and walk a short ways down the river to the base of the waterfall. There, you’ll find a bucolic swimming hole, surrounded by small cliffs from which to jump. Folks have been known to string up an illicit rope swing, and the Department of Environmental Conservation dutifully cuts it down a few times per season.

Mountain Biking

Whether you want to ride the Olympic Cross Country trails, bomb down Little Whiteface, or hit technical single-track trails, Lake Placid has it all for beginners and experts alike. You can access some trails right from town, so pick up a local trail map to find the course that best suits you.

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Camping Options

“Options” is the optimal word. The area surrounding Lake Placid offers traditional tent campsites, cabin rentals, canvas cabins, and lean-tos. As one convenient option close to town, the ADK Wilderness Campground sits alongside a lake and offers multiple camping options, along with restroom facilities, or hike into the wilderness itself for free camping with fewer facilities.

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Dining

There are plenty of good post-hike food and drink options in the area, but as soon as you arrive in Lake Placid, head straight to Smoke Signals (campsite set-up or hotel check-in can wait). Choose a spot in its exposed brick interior or on the patio overlooking Mirror Lake; then, order marbled Brisket and a side of Mac & Cheese. You may not be hungry for a day afterwards, but you’ll thank me. If, however, that looks like too much to handle, the barbecue Tacos Trio, the Hanger Steak, and the BBQ wings are all terrific. Other excellent dinner options are Lisa G’s and The Cottage.

Assuming that you’re hungry the next morning, The Breakfast Club, Etc. awaits just down the street. As the restaurant is known for its hearty fare and Bloody Marys, you may have to wait a bit for a seat on busy weekends. I recommend the BC Röstis (pronounced ROOST•ee—it’s Swiss!). Picture a cast iron skillet on a slab of wood, filled with hash browns covered with bacon, covered again with cheese, and topped off with two eggs. Side effects include loss of appetite, rapture, and, in rare cases, food coma (easily cured by a nap).

As one compelling reason to visit in the summer, Donnelly’s Soft Ice Cream is only open Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. You pick the size and a cone or cup; they, however, pick the flavor. That’s because they make one flavor a day, always twisted with vanilla. There will be a line, but it moves fast. Donnelly’s is a bit of a drive (14 miles or 25 minutes) from Main Street in Lake Placid, but that gives you time to digest your lunch or dinner! Emma’s Ice Cream in town is also very good, and they allow you to choose your flavor.

Roundup

All that and nary a mention of the area’s winter activities? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot for a summertime mountain getaway. Swing by the EMS store while in town to get local beta, upgrade your gear, pick up camping supplies, rent a kayak or SUP, or take a climbing adventure through the school. We hope to see you soon.


Against All Odds: 5 Common Alpine Flowers in the Northeast

Credit: Patrick Scanlan
Credit: Patrick Scanlan

When I first started venturing into the alpine zone, the obvious captivated me. The absence of large trees, the swaths of exposed rock, the strength of the wind, the view (or lack of one) around me, and the perspective that came with it kept me coming back for more.

Everything in those environments seems big and expansive. But, every time I came back, the closer I looked, and the more I found. And, the colorful alpine flowers that dot the summits exemplify nature’s beauty and resiliency in such a harsh environment.

Alpine Adaptations

It is no easy feat to come back every spring after a winter of heavy snow, arctic temperatures, and hurricane-force winds. However, plants growing in an alpine ecosystem have adapted over time to survive.

For instance, growing close together in clumps or mats helps the plant retain heat and allows wind to pass over with minimal disturbance. As well, growing low to the ground protects the plant from deep, wind-packed snow. Some also have thick, wax-coated leaves, which retain water in shallow soils and aid in protecting the plant from high winds.

How to Spot Them

When you search for wildflowers, make sure to be environmentally conscious. Though these plants have evolved to withstand extreme conditions, they are fragile to human contact. So, when looking for these flowers, stay on the trail to avoid trampling other alpine plants and take only pictures.

If you are headed into the alpine zone, generally above 4,000 feet, you will be able to find many of these species. In New Hampshire, for instance, these flowers can be found in the Presidential Range, Franconia Ridge, Mount Chocorua, Mount Cardigan, Mount Monadnock, and on bald summits.

Over in Maine, they can be found in Baxter State Park, the Bigelow Range, the Mahoosuc Range, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Mount Abraham. When you’re in Vermont, alpine zones exist on Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump. As you venture into New York, you can find them on Whiteface Mountain, Algonquin, and Mount Marcy.

Alpine Flower Guide

Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Diapensia lapponica, a.k.a. pincushion plant: This densely-growing plant has five-lobed white flowers extending no more than a few inches above the soil. These bloom from June through July.
Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Courtesy: Rebecca Huncilman
Geum peckii, a.k.a mountain avens: The mountain avens’ yellow flowers have five petals. Depending on the environment, the plant’s height can be between six and 20 inches. Flowering from June through September, this species is only found in the White Mountains and Nova Scotia.

Courtesy: Sally Baldwin
Courtesy: Sally Baldwin
Rhododendron lapponicum, a.k.a lapland rosebay: This low-growing plant that forms mat-like clusters has five-lobed pink-purple flowers with long stamens. Lapland rosebay is generally between four and 12 inches tall and flowers from May through July.

Credit: Caitlin McDonough
Loiseleuria procumbent, a.k.a alpine azalea: Alpine azalea forms short, bushy patches that only grow a few inches off the ground. Its crown-shaped flowers are bright pink and white and bloom from June through August.

Courtesy: Aaron Emerson
Courtesy: Aaron Emerson
Potentilla robbinsiana, a.k.a. dwarf cinquefoil or Robbins cinquefoil: Forming small clusters in sheltered alpine areas, this plant’s flowers are five-petaled and yellow. Flowering during a two-week window in June, dwarf cinquefoil is extremely rare and can only be found on Mount Washington and Franconia Ridge.


The Guide to Ultralight Backpacking: How to Pack & What to Bring

Backpacking can be an incredibly rewarding experience. You get to meander through the wilderness with all you need on your back, sleep under the stars, and brew a fresh morning cup of coffee miles away from civilization. However, the same gear that allows us to recreate in the backcountry also takes a toll on us, sapping more energy and wearing on our bodies with each additional pound dropped into the pack.

Gear has diversified significantly from the days of heavy flannels, external frame rucksacks, and steel shank boots. Considering this, what options are available for doing an ultralight backpacking adventure?

Credit: Joe Lasky
Credit: Joe Lasky

The Gram-Shaving Mentality

Ultralight backpacking is all about lessening the traditional load. This task is typically accomplished in three ways: upgrading to lighter, compact gear, redesigning your meals, and embracing minimalism by cutting out relative luxuries. With these points in mind, here are some ideas to get you started:

Bare Necessities

Cutting out unnecessary pieces is the most basic way to shave weight. However, it is important to identify “luxury” items without jeopardizing safety.

For instance, quick-drying, odor-resistant fabrics such as Techwick or wool allow hikers to extend the usage of each garment and to avoid packing additional items. Doubling use, such as filling a stuff sack with a midlayer to form a comfortable pillow, additionally allows you to leave more gear at home.

Ditching the stuff sacks and instead packing shelters and poles directly into the backpack brings tents down to their “trail weight.” As well, travel-sized toothpaste, toothbrushes, and soaps save weight and space over conventional sizes. As another hack, cutting the handle off a toothbrush also works.

Creativity is an ally here. Even something as simple as removing the cardboard core of a toilet paper roll will reduce unnecessary weight.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Cooking with Weight in Mind

Mealtime is one major area that can be adapted to reduce weight. For example, calorically dense foods like peanut butter and chocolate offer more energy per ounce, eliminating the need for additional food and weight. Determining the ideal amount of a particular food you bring, however, will take tweaking, but the industry starting point is two pounds per person per day.

Further keep in mind that water weighs 1 kg/liter, or roughly 2.2 pounds/liter. When hiking in areas with ample water sources, cooking water-intense meals, like pasta, is a non-issue. However, on trails where water is scarce and must be carried long distances, opting for meals that do not require boiling or that use water more efficiently enables you to bring along less water weight. Also, meals involving long boil times or simmering increase fuel demands, requiring more canisters or liquid fuel regardless of water availability.

As another tip, taking a few minutes before a trip to repackage items can save space and eliminate waste-related weight. Rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, couscous, oatmeal, and similar items can all be stored in Ziploc bags, for example.

Credit: Joe Lasky
Credit: Joe Lasky

Ideal Gear

By far the most exciting part of preparing for an ultralight backpacking experience is scoping out lighter gear. The options are nearly limitless, but some key weight-saving pieces are sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents, and clothes. Backpacks also vary significantly by weight, but a proper fit is a higher priority.

Sleeping Bags

High-quality down or synthetic sleeping bags offer more warmth-per-ounce when compared to heavier, bulkier, less-efficient insulation. Bags like the Sea to Summit Spark SPII weigh nearly one pound and make for a strong late-spring, summer, and early-fall choice.

Sleeping Pads

Inflatable pads, such as the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir or Sea to Summit UltraLight, offer durable comfort and warmth while weighing at least a pound less than conventional self-inflating models.

Tents

Backpacking tents are constructed with lighter materials and more compact designs. With all things being equal, a freestanding tent (one that does not require staking) will be slightly heavier than a non-freestanding design. However, certain models, like the EMS Velocity 2, offer the convenience and versatility of a freestanding tent while keeping overall weight to a minimum.

Clothing

Wool and synthetic layers are dynamic, mitigate odor, dry quickly, and withstand abrasion well. To name a few, Techwick, Icebreaker, and Smartwool are all fantastic options. As well, extending the practical usage of individual shirts, pants, socks, and undergarments enables backpackers to bring fewer items without jeopardizing safety or comfort.


No-Stove Backpacking With the Hydro Flask

Camp stoves are overrated.

They’re finicky, take time, burn fossil fuels (well, most of them, anyway), and are heavy. But, even for the simplest of backpacking meals, hot water is a necessity. So, what if, instead of carrying all this extra equipment to boil water on-location, you could just heat your water up at home, take it with you, and, then, add and serve later?

If no-stove backpacking seems ridiculous, it’s for good reason. First off, stoves now-a-days are efficient, fast, and lightweight. Secondly, in situations where you have a nearby stream or another body of water, it’s far easier to just bring along a stove and find, carry in, and heat up your water on-site for dinner.

But, it’s also a curious plan. Is it possible to boil your cooking water at home in the morning, store it in your pack during your hike, pull it out in the evening, and still have it hot enough to cook your Good To-Go meal?

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

The Test

I already have a collection of Hydro Flasks that I love. So, even though I’ve never tried using using them in such a long-term and high-stakes situation, I decided they would give me the best shot at success.

Before heading out on a quick overnight to a spot on the Adirondacks’ Northville-Lake Placid Trail, I boiled enough water to fill both 32 oz. Wide Mouth and 20 oz. Standard Mouth bottles, as well as a non-double-walled steel bottle and my trusty Adirondack Nalgene, all for the sake of comparison. Then, I hit the trail!

As the most obvious thing right off the bat, the Nalgene and stainless steel bottle were hot to the touch—almost too hot to pick up with my bare hands. Comparatively, the Hydro Flasks felt like nothing had changed.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

But, after a full day of hiking, with camp set up and my stomach calling out to me, I was only a little surprised to see steam come soaring out of both Hydro Flasks when I took off their insulated lids. This made rehydrating my dinner a snap, and I was chowing down quicker than I ever have! Needless to say, the other two bottles didn’t make the cut. By dinnertime, the water was only slightly above an ambient temperature.

While boiling dinner water at home is definitely an option for some backpacking situations, storing water in a Hydro Flask might be more useful while cooking at night. With the stove already running, heat enough water for the next morning’s breakfast cereal or oatmeal, and hold onto it overnight just to save time in the morning. But, however you choose to take advantage of it, a Hydro Flask’s insulating prowess will get you a long way toward a delicious backcountry meal.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

How to Make a Custom Map

Even in the age of GPS devices and cell phones that can pinpoint your location within feet, nothing is as simple, useful, and trustworthy as a good map. But maps haven’t been immune to the same technological advances that brought us our fancy electronics.

Rather than visiting a store to search through set USGS Quads, atlases, or pre-set maps, today’s adventurers have the ability to customize their own to their exact specifications. The type of map, its details, the trails and points displayed on it, and its area can all be tweaked and adjusted, so that when you head outside, you have the exact combination you need. To make your own, the data is out there, if you can figure out how to put it together.

What are “layers?”

Layers are map sections that can be examined on their own or, through a program, overlaid onto another map to compare and contrast details. For example, when you visit Google Maps, you can choose between street maps, satellite images, and even terrain. By adding traffic conditions or bicycle routes, you’re overlaying one layer on top of another to view even more data.

There are almost too many types of map layers to count, but these are some of the most commonly used ones:

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Google Maps

With 1 billion monthly users, Google Maps is probably the most well-known mapping site. It offers three different layers, including Street, Terrain, and Satellite, and has a few additional ones that can be turned on and off, including bike paths and traffic.

If you are trying to get to or return from the trailhead, Google Maps is definitely the best choice for avoiding the traffic and then finding some food after. However, while it adds some vague trails, other stronger options can help you find your way in the outdoors.

goeast-usgs

USGS Topo

Using U.S. Geologic Survey data, the basis for decades’ worth of maps, the USGS topographical map is the most common layer for reading and navigating the outdoors. At a basic level, USGS maps show you roads, dirt roads, and trails, as well as clearings and many other manmade structures. Caltopo.com contains the full USGS map layer, which covers the entire country.

If you plan on traveling off the trail, a USGS or similar topographical map is a must-have for navigation. As you’re outdoors, use the elevation and land features to keep track of your position.

To add to the information you get from the USGS’ basic topo lines, layer in slope shading. Slope shading highlights based on the slope angle, which then shows where hills and mountains get more or less steep and helps you identify cliffs for rock and ice climbing. For backcountry skiers and snowboarders, this feature assists with planning approaches and descents while minimizing avalanche risk.

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Satellite and Aerial Imagery

Satellite images show texture and visual details that most map layers can’t capture. If you plan to check out specific terrain features or vegetation cover, this type assists with examining these facets more closely. Both Google and Bing Maps have satellite imagery, but the latter uses images from late winter or early spring. This combination allows you to see through the canopy and get more detail in the forests than you would from summertime-only images. As a result, you can look at the area around the cliff to identify trails that might not be mapped otherwise—a benefit to rock climbers looking for approach and descent trails.

Bing maps also have bird’s-eye view aerial imagery, and Google Maps offers a 3D function. Both options create more up-close imagery and provide a perspective different from straight satellite views. In the outdoors, bird’s-eye view can be useful for inspecting cliff faces for climbing routes or even looking at new areas in more detail before you make the trip out.

As another asset, Caltopo lets you layer topo maps over a satellite image to see contour lines on top. Doing so might help you make better sense of an otherwise-2D image—for instance, before finding climbing slides in places like the Adirondacks. First, the satellite images allow you to see the slide itself and pick out your route, and then, the topo map adds terrain information and even trails before and after.

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Map Builder Topo

Map Builder Topo is a Caltopo layer that uses USGS contours as a base, but then adds in a huge number of up-to-date trails and other waypoints. This layer is helpful for figuring out the best trails to get to where you want to go.

Caltopo allows you to add lines and waypoints, which can be measured for distance and elevation gain. If you are planning a hike, trail run, or even a paddle and want to know the route statistics, this tool gives you a good start. One fault, however, is it makes no distinction between hiking and biking trails. Thus, if you use it to go exploring with your bike, you might find yourself on gnarly terrain or trespassing on hiking-only trails.

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OSM Bike

The Open Cycle layer uses many of Map Builder’s trails, but softens the contours. Here, color-coded brown and blue indicate hiking and biking trails, respectively. As a result, this tool is essential for developing bike touring and bikepacking routes.

In addition to trails, it also highlights popular roads for cycling, as well as bike paths and lanes. When you want to get off the bike, it indicates important landmarks, such as campgrounds, hotels, hospitals, bike shops, coffee shops, and breweries.

Keep in mind that Open Cycle Map is open source. As such, the cycling community constantly updates it with the latest trail information.

Almost all of the map layers above can be accessed on Caltopo.com, one of the many free online mapping sites. So, before you plan to visit an area, take the time to review each map layer’s specific details. In doing so, you might even find something worth traveling to on its own.

Make Your Map

After you’ve decided on the layers forming your map’s core, you can customize it even further. Caltopo.com allows you to add waypoints, tracks, and more facets, just like you would with GPS software like Garmin BaseCamp.

Then, once you have your map set up with all the data you might want on your hike, paddle, or climb, print it out yourself. Use Rite in the Rain or National Geographic waterproof printer paper for a durable, outdoor-ready map, and then, hit the trails!


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

Mud Season—Now What?

What are the two most dreaded words in the English language?

Mud season.

The scourge of hikers. The nemesis of backpackers. The evil overlord of fun in the spring. What is it about mud season that brings about these feelings?

Well, for starters, hiking any High Peak (mountains over 4,000 feet) in the Adirondacks is out. And, for a good reason, I’d say. According to our friends over at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), avoiding sensitive, high-elevation trails above 2,500 feet until they’re dried and hardened helps prevent irreparable damage.

But, what if you say, “To heck with it. I’m hiking. It’s only a little mud. What’s the big deal?”

It is a big deal—a pretty darn big deal, actually. So says Brendan Wiltse, and he should know: He’s spent the last seven years studying this kind of thing as the Science and Stewardship Director of the Ausable River Association.

“During mud season, trail conditions at high elevations often result in hikers deviating from the established trail or hiking along the sides, causing trail widening and erosion,” Wiltse says. “Soils at high elevations are often thin and prone to erosion. It only takes a few hikers walking on these thin, saturated soils to cause damage to the rare plants that live there.”

So, what can you do? You can embrace mud season. Realize that it will typically be you and very few other hikers out on the trails. Add in no bugs and warmer weather, and you have yourself a good time coming. And, during this season, please consider the following as alternatives until the Adirondack High Peaks have had the chance to dry out and get themselves ready for some boot-stompin’ summer hiking.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Baxter Mountain

How much summit fun can be packed into one tiny mountain? If your name is Baxter, apparently a whole bunch. The one-mile hike up is a pleasant stroll in the woods, with a 725-foot elevation gain before you pop up onto the summit. Make sure you find the path through the woods that will take you along the summit ridge line.

Hike: Hammond Pond Wild Forest, 2 miles RT, easy hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Hurricane Mountain from Route 9N

The best “Oh my God, no!” moment is when you step out for a view at 2.8 miles and see the fire tower still looks impossibly far away. Spoiler alert: It really isn’t that far—only 7/10ths of a mile to go! From here, it is a quick roller coaster of a hike through some pretty forest, before you get spit out onto the summit rock. Oh, and the views? They’re to die for. So, pack a lunch, and stay to enjoy the summit—in any season.

Hike: Hurricane Mountain Wilderness, 6.8 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Jay Mountain

It ends in a 1.5-mile ridge hike. Need I say more? How about gentle switchbacks that your knees will thank you for, stellar views of Whiteface, and rock cairns taller than you? Still not enough? If a 1.5-mile ridge hike doesn’t make your heart go pitter-pat, then you probably should find a new outdoor hobby.

Hike: Jay Mountain Wilderness, 8 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Mt. Jo

For a return on your investment, this is one of the best hikes out there. A mere 1.1 miles and 700 feet of elevation gain will get you some of the prettiest High Peak views from a non-High Peak summit. And, there are not one but TWO ways to reach the top: the Short Trail (steeper) or the Long Trail (less steep but longer).

Hike: High Peaks Wilderness Area, 2.2 miles RT for the Short Trail and 2.6 miles RT for the Long Trail, easy to moderate hike.

Credit: Kisti Brennan
Credit: Kisti Brennan

Ampersand Mountain

Which mountain do you summit when you want to feel as if you have worked for your hike AND you want 360-degree views? Ampersand. Not only are the sights gasp-worthy, but there is plenty of rock to pull up and sit a spell.

Hike: High Peaks Wilderness Area, 5.4 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kisti Brennan
Credit: Kisti Brennan

Haystack Mountain

No, not the High Peak. It’s mud season, remember? This one is just outside Saranac Lake and offers a mighty pleasant walk through the prettiest woods I’ve seen since the last time I hiked through trees and duff in the Adirondack Park. (Am I right? Isn’t every bit of the park absolutely gorgeous?) Don’t get too complacent, however, as the eventual elevation gain is serious enough to break a sweat, but the views from the open rock ledge are worth every droplet.

Hike: McKenzie Mountain Wilderness, 6.6 miles RT, easy to moderate hike.

 

Not sure what else is on the recommended “OK-to-hike-without-eroding-the-trails-further” list? Follow this link to a DEC page that will give you a full list of recommended mud season hikes, and make sure to also sign up for updates.


Beyond 48: The Northeast's Hardest Hiking Checklists

For many people, just getting to the top of a New Hampshire 4,000-footer is a big accomplishment. For others, summiting all 48 of the state’s 4,000-footers is the ultimate goal and a sign that you’ve “made it” as a New England hiker.

But, for a select few, the White Mountains and New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers get in your blood. So, the idea of stopping at just 48 seems ludicrous. For these people, they move on to tackling more challenging ways to summit the New Hampshire 48, whether by linking them, attempting them in different seasons, or exploring them by different trails.

The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney
The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney

The Big Hikes

In many cases, hiking your first 4,000-footer involves getting out of your comfort zone, accepting a new physical challenge, and returning to your car with a blend of jubilation and exhaustion. Perhaps it’s the desire to recreate this feeling that leads some to move on from the 48 summits to the White Mountains’ classic long, hard hikes.

Presidential Traverse

The most notable, the 18-plus mile Presidential Traverse climbs over 8,500 feet while summiting seven New Hampshire 4,000-footers. For planning out your journey, this includes Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. Some ambitious hikers even continue the extra couple of miles to tag the summit of Mount Jackson.

Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse

Although the Presidential Traverse gets most of the attention and has more climbing, many insist that a Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse is more difficult. Helping it earn this reputation, its steep rock trails and 7,200 feet of climbing take you over six 4,000-foot summits. Here, that list covers Moriah, South Carter, Middle Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A, and Wildcat D. However, losing the majority of the elevation previously gained and having to reclaim it near the middle at Carter Notch really make the Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse feel difficult.

Pemi Loop

While traverses are great, sometimes you want to go big but only have access to one car. Here is where the Pemi Loop rules. The route, as you may know, combines two of the White Mountains’ classic traverses—Franconia Ridge and the Bonds—into what Backpacker Magazine has labeled the country’s second-hardest day-hike.

Covering over 30 miles and 9,000 feet of elevation gain, this legendary loop hike tags the summits of nine New Hampshire 4,000-footers. This time, you’ll reach Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff. The truly ambitious and fit will then add the summits of Galehead, Zealand, and North Twin for an almost 40-mile day that summits 12 peaks.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

Gridding

Although the big hikes present equally large challenges, they can all feasibly be done in a day. For those looking for a longer-term commitment, on the other hand, you can attempt “gridding.” Gridding is defined as hiking every New Hampshire 4,000-footer in every month of the year. These journeys amount to a grand total of 576 summits and appeal to those of us who love checking boxes off our lists.

Until this January, completing the grid was considered a multi-year objective—that is, until Sue Johnston of Littleton, NH, became the first person to do it in a calendar year. And, according to the definitive website for gridders, 48×12.com, only 70 people have completed the whole shebang.

Named for the 48 x 12 spreadsheet used to document ascents, gridding adds the challenge of facing each and every mountain in all possible conditions. That covers the snow and ice of winter to the mud of spring to the heat and humidity of summer to the treacherous leaves of fall.

Credit: Jeff Jacobsen
Credit: Jeff Jacobsen

Red-Lining

If the idea of gridding sounds overly ambitious to you, red-lining will sound downright crazy. While hiking the New Hampshire 48 and gridding revolve around summiting the White Mountains’ highest peaks, red-liners seek to hike every mile of every trail, including viewpoints, campsites, and spur trails (approximately 1,420 miles) found in the AMC White Mountain Guide.

If that sounds like a lot of mileage, take into consideration that many of the trails are out-and-backs or crisscross with others. Typically, this forces red-liners to hike far more miles than just the 1,420 miles required.

Named after the act of highlighting completed trail sections, red-lining is most frequently done over multiple years. What’s truly incredible about it is, considering its relative closeness to major metropolitan areas and hiking’s surging popularity, only 35 people have finished the endeavor. One includes EMS customer Bill Robichaud, who we featured back in 2015:

Redlining the White Mountains

While summiting all 4,000-footers is an incredible accomplishment, you don’t have to stop there! New Hampshire’s White Mountains can be explored and experienced in so many different ways. Whether you want to repeat your favorites, tackle the hardest, grid, red-line, or invent some new way to keep the challenge alive, just remember that the 48th summit doesn’t have to be your last.