My 16-year-old and His Friend Hiked Vermont’s Long Trail...By Themselves

As I watched my 16-year-old son and his friend walk into the woods at the Massachusetts/Vermont border to begin their northbound thru-hike to Canada—alone—I fought the urge to run up the trail with them. Despite my beaming smile and outward excitement, I was still conflicted about whether or not we’d made the right choice.

Happily heading into the woods. | Credit: Sarah Hunter

The boys first approached us about this adventure a year earlier, after returning home from camp. They had spent ten days that summer backpacking a section of Vermont’s Long Trail, a 272-mile footpath through the Green Mountains, with six other friends and two counselors. It had been hot, their packs were heavy, and the mountains were steep, but they loved it. They wanted to return the following summer to hike the entire trail, by themselves.

Despite my beaming smile and outward excitement, I was still conflicted about whether or not we’d made the right choice.

We knew they had the experience and training to do it. They had hiked and paddled hundreds of miles with their families and with each other for the past five summers at camp. They practiced Leave No Trace and impeccable trail etiquette, and both were certified in Wilderness First Aid. This adventure was well within their skill-set and it had all the makings of a true coming-of-age experience. We couldn’t let our fears hold them back. We said yes.

In the spring, they planned their route, including evacuation options and resupply stops. They developed a meal plan based on the calories, fat, and weight of each item. They made a packing list, assessed their gear, and determined what they had and what they needed. Soon packages were arriving regularly at our doorstep: a JetBoil, gravity water filter, and the all-important two-way satellite communicator that would track their route and allow them to check in with us at the end of each day.

Sunset on Killington. | Credit: Silas Hunter

When summer arrived, my son and I tested his new gear during a weekend backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, during which he cooked our meals, filtered our water, and hung our bear bag each night. All I had to do was hike. My husband had the even easier task of following along from home, watching our path on the website. With one click, we sent him a message each evening: We’re checking in; everything is fine. It worked like a charm. We were ready.

The day before their start day, though, I broke down in a panicked what-did-we-agree-to moment. Even though they were prepared to go, I realized I’d never be fully prepared to let them go. But as I watched them walk into the woods together the next day, laden with heavy packs made heavier by their summer reading books, I put on a brave face. I was out of my comfort zone, but so were they. They were doing a brave thing. The least I could do was to be brave, too.

But as I watched them walk into the woods together the next day, laden with heavy packs made heavier by their summer reading books, I put on a brave face. I was out of my comfort zone, but so were they. They were doing a brave thing. The least I could do was to be brave, too.

Over the next three weeks I followed the map as they made their way north through the Green Mountains. I checked the weather. I worried. But each time I met them for a resupply my spirits were buoyed. They were doing fine. Better than fine. They were swimming in clear, quiet ponds, climbing fire towers, hiking in the dark for mountain-top sunrises. They were doing great. My worrying didn’t help them, or me.

When we met them at the northern terminus of the trail on the Canadian border we were overjoyed, and so were they. They were visibly tired and sore and dirty and also thoroughly, deeply, happy. For 21 days they had taken care of themselves and each other while traversing rugged peaks and steep valleys again and again. They faced countless decisions every day. Important decisions. On their own. Their reward for their perseverance, fortitude, and bravery, and ours, was etched on their faces. They had completed an incredible journey, one that they will carry with them always. It came at the expense of sore muscles and blisters (for them) and several more gray hairs (for us), but it was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Resupply day! | Credit: Sarah Hunter

Fall Hikes on the Connecticut Shoreline

There’s something special about the Connecticut shoreline in the offseason. Boardwalks and beaches once teeming with beachgoers stand mostly empty and the memory of summer is palpable. To some, it can be a bit creepy—to others, peaceful. Either way, gone with the summer sun are the crowds, and just like any other ecosystem in fall and winter, the coast gets its opportunity to rest, to regenerate, and to become a refuge for those seeking quietude and connection with nature.

Caught between I-95 and the Long Island Sound, the Nutmeg State’s 332 miles of coastline is a mix of densely populated cities and towns, gradually dissipating as the distance from New York City increases. And though much of it has been urbanized or carved up into tidy lots for beach homes, the pockets of nature that remain—in the form of state parks and beaches—are pearls in a strand that runs from Greenwich all the way out to the Rhode Island border.

Short trails and easy terrain characterize the spots below so whether you’re looking to mix up the trail running routine or you just want a chill hike that can end in a lobster roll, heading down to the shore is the right move.

The wide beach path at Sherwood Island is ideal, easy terrain in a gorgeous setting. | Credit: John Lepak

Sherwood Island

With open lawns, sweeping ocean views, and sandy beaches, it’s no wonder why Sherwood Island State Park in Westport is Connecticut’s first state park. And while this little gem in the state’s densely populated “Gold Coast” is hardly a wilderness, getting a moment to yourself in such a setting is nothing to pass up.

Sherwood Island’s beach is split in two—East Beach and West Beach—each with a small loop trail at its end. The western loop runs through a stand of oak trees over roughly paved ground while the eastern loop navigates a grassy maze of paths flanked by a salt marsh to the north. In between, a gravel path just off the beach offers friendly ground over which to stroll or run. Combining the loop trails on the west and east ends of the island with a run along the beachside path and back weighs in at 3.3 miles.

Charles Island and its tombolo at low tide, as seen from Silver Sands State Park. | Credit: John Lepak

Silver Sands

Silver Sands State Park in Milford is a quintessential Connecticut beach: more pebbles and shells than sand, picturesque salt marshes, and an immaculately weathered wooden boardwalk, all framed by the calm, lapping water of Long Island Sound.

What makes Silver Sands unique though is that, at low tide, the Sound reveals a rocky land bridge—known as a tombolo—that reaches out into the water, connecting the beach with nearby Charles Island. Tricky currents on either side of the tombolo make crossing a foolhardy endeavour in even just a few inches of water, so correctly timing your trip is essential. Consult a tide chart, pick a day where the tides are at their most extreme—when the moon is either new or full— and leave the beach at least an hour before the low tide. A roundtrip hike across the tombolo, around the island and back will run 2.5 miles.

Please note that access to Charles Island—and use of the tombolo—is forbidden from May 1–August 31 as the area is closed for the protection of nesting birds.

View from the short—but lovely—trails at Meig’s Point, the southeasternmost point of Hammonasset Beach State Park. | Credit: John Lepak

Hammonasset Beach

Drawing an estimated one million visitors annually, Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison is one of Connecticut’s most popular destinations. In a typical summer, its two miles of wide, sandy beach regularly fill to capacity, and its large campgrounds are abuzz with activity. And while Hammonasset still draws visitors in the off-season, a trip here in the fall can feel like a completely different place.

On the far southeastern edge of the state park, the beach fades away to rocky shores and coastal wetlands—this is Meig’s Point. A handful of short-but-lovely trails stretch out from the Nature Center in the center of Meig’s Point that, when combined with a tour of the beach, can make for a really enjoyable walk or run. An out-and-back starting from West Beach and ending at the terminus of the Moraine Trail will net you around 5.0 miles of beach, bluff, and beautiful views of Long Island Sound.

Salt marshes and coastal woodlands at Rocky Neck State Park. | Credit: John Lepak

Rocky Neck

Much like Hammonasset Beach, Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme is an incredibly popular summertime destination for Connecticut residents seeking sun, sand, and surf. The beach itself, bounded by a busy passenger railroad, is a bit developed (and can be a little noisy), but the draw of Rocky Neck for hikers and trail runners are its coastal woodlands and its salt marshes, both of which are accessible via a network of well-marked and well-maintained trails.

A large stand of woods separates the park’s western boundary—the tidal Four Mile River—from the salt marshes at its interior. The trails within weave and wind through dense mountain laurel and coastal hardwood forest with occasional views to the river, the salt marsh, and Long Island Sound. It is, in some places, paved, but the majority of the trails here vary between wide, easy former woods roads and rocky, rooty singletrack. The densely packed trails at Rocky Neck make for a bit of a choose your own adventure in terms of distance, but the most pleasant of rambles will get you between 2.0 and 4.0 miles, easily.

A boulder on the edge of Fishers Island Sound at Bluff Point State Park. | Credit: John Lepak

Bluff Point

Undeveloped shoreline is exceedingly rare in Southern New England, and that’s what makes Bluff Point State Park and Coastal Reserve, a wooded peninsula in the city of Groton, such a special place. At over 800 acres, characterized by nearly untouched coastal forest and rocky shore, it’s the largest such tract of land remaining on the Connecticut coast.

The main artery through Bluff Point is a wide, graded gravel road. The ground is easy and flat and intermittent views of the Poquonnock River to the west open up to broader views of Fishers Island Sound as you head south. Despite its proximity to a densely-populated city, and the ease of the graded path, Bluff Point has a distinctly natural feel. Gradually, the woodlands give way to sweeping views and rocky shoreline where large boulders, fascinating rock formations, and the dramatic, eponymous Bluff Point take center stage.

A chill and peaceful loop on this gravel road takes it all in over an easy 3.6 miles.


Fallen Leaves: How to Appreciate and Photograph Post-Peak Fall Color

Nothing lasts forever, and peak fall color is no exception. Every year it seems that just as quickly as the dog days of summer transitioned to crisp and foggy fall mornings, the once vibrant colors of fall have faded and the trees are left solemnly standing bare, ready to face another long and cold winter. Fall color can be as unpredictable as it is fleeting, and even when planning months in advance and booking that perfect campsite or cabin during what is supposed to be peak color, oftentimes autumn throws us a curveball and decides to peak early, which has happened throughout much of the Northeast this year. While it’s difficult to not feel at least a twinge of disappoint when fall has passed its peak, there are still a bounty of picturesque wonders to be found in the late-autumn forest.

Credit: Joey Priola

Look Down for Color

Fallen leaves can be just as colorful and pretty on the ground as they were on the branches from which they came, especially after a strong wind has blown them from the trees before their color began to dull. Different trees tend to lose their leaves at different times, and strolling down a trail littered with fallen maple leaves while the beeches and oaks still retain their golden leaves is a joy to the senses. Fallen leaves make for interesting photographs, and are perfect for abstract and macro shots. Leaves covered in dew or raindrops are a particularly interesting late-autumn photography subject, and can make for truly unique images that stand out from the crowd. This is a great time to utilize a macro lens to create frame-filling shots of colorful fallen leaves, revealing an incredibly intricate world of textures and shapes that often go unnoticed.

Credit: Joey Priola

Find Moving Water

Another way to appreciate fallen leaves and use them for creative photos is to seek out eddies in creeks or small rivers where fallen leaves have gathered. These nooks in the shore often cause the water to slowly move in a swirling circular motion that’s difficult to perceive with the naked eye, but can be revealed in a photo by using a multi-second exposure. Depending on how bright it is out, a natural density filter, which reduces the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor, may be necessary to facilitate an exposure that’s long enough to capture a pleasing swirling motion. This type of photography is fun and dynamic, as no two photos are the same. Experiment with different shutter speeds and try tossing a handful of leaves from the nearby ground into the water to see how the number of leaves can drastically alter the photo outcome.

Credit: Joey Priola

Who Needs Leaves?

Bare trees that have bid adieu to their leaves until the spring also make for an intriguing photography subject. These trees are interesting in their own right as a standalone subject when isolated from the grand landscape with a telephoto lens, especially when a thick veil of morning fog obscures the background and simplifies the landscape. Mountainsides with trees that still have colorful leaves and some that are bare make for a thought-provoking contrast in color and form, and on a deeper level can make one think about the fragility and ephemerality of life. Forests and mountainsides on the edge of open meadows are great places to view and photograph this contrast of life and death, especially at sunrise or sunset when colorful clouds fill the sky.

Just because the majority of leaves have fallen and autumn is well past its peak, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t still beauty to be found in the fall forest. So the next time you look at a foliage report and see that colors are past peak, don’t hesitate to still get out and discover the splendor that the late-autumn season has to offer, likely in much more solitude than during peak color.


Shoulder Season Running vs. the Northshield Jacket and Pants

The air is getting crisp, the leaves are starting to turn, and the sun is setting just a little bit earlier every evening. It’s finally fall, and just like every other year, fall is a time of transition—a time to pack up the summer gear and start training for those big time winter objectives.

Whether you’re skiing powder or climbing ice, “training” could mean a lot of different things—but one necessity across the board is cardio. For many of us, that means breaking out the running shoes and hitting the road. This, in turn, means braving whatever weather the Northeastern shoulder season may have in store. On any given day you may be cruising under clear skies, pushing through the rain, or slipping and sliding in the snow.

The EMS Northshield Jacket (men’s/women’s) and Pants (men’s/women’s) were made for just these conditions, and last spring, I had the chance to put them to the test in my own backyard.

A DWR coating will keep you dry on shorter runs in the elements | Credit: Katharina Lepak

“Shield” is in the name, after all

Were my aspirations not tied to the mountains, running into a cold, driving rain would be near the bottom of my list—but committing to lofty goals means bearing down and building a base of fitness on which to try that next climb. In that spirit, I ran the Northshield through its paces in the snow, the rain, and everything in-between. On shorter runs, around the neighborhood or on local trails, its DWR coating did the job and kept me warm and dry. On longer, colder runs in the elements, I still found it effective as a breathable insulating layer, but would definitely recommend adding a lightweight shell over the top to keep the precip out if you were running a marathon in the driving rain.

Thumb loops and reflective accents round out the features that make the Northshield work in the elements | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Cool morning make for the best training

Whether Spring or Fall, shoulder season in the Northeast can be chaotic, and the conditions can vary wildly from day to day. Just because it snowed in the morning doesn’t mean it won’t be 75º and sunny by the afternoon, and in many instances—like mountain running, for example—you can count on such a shift. Being prepared is incredibly important and such unpredictable circumstances underscore the importance of layering.

The Northshield makes an excellent addition to any layering system. It’s ability to block the wind made it useful even in milder temperatures and it’s a solid pre- and post-run layer—great for warming up and cooling down. On warmer runs, I found myself opting for one piece—either the jacket in combination with a pair of shorts, or the pants with a t-shirt—rather than both.

It was in the cold that the Northshield really excelled though. Whether I was doing a chilly pre-dawn tempo session or on a long run through that lovely precip grab bag known as “wintry mix,” the Northshield kept me toasty the whole way through. Both the jacket and the pants are adorned with heavier windproof panels on the front—sensible for running headlong into cold weather—while the back is lighter, more breathable, and lends itself to a less bulky feel.

Shorter days inevitably mean running by headlamp | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Stay seen

As winter approaches, the days get colder and darker, and more and more often, runs have to happen in the dark. Before my day job adopted a work-from-home policy back in March, my runs would always have to take place on the fringes of the day—either before or after a lengthy commute into the city. This would invariably mean running in the dark, with a headlamp. Even still, packed days at home wind up pushing workouts later and later, and running in the dark is a necessity.

I was initially skeptical of the Northshield’s colorway for this purpose—black is hardly ideal for running at night and in my neck of the woods, where the roads are dark, curvy, and hilly—not the safest combination. After giving it a go, however, it became clear that the reflective accents on both the jacket and the pants succeeded in affording a huge amount of visibility on the unlit backroads of my neighborhood. I would still strongly recommend including a headlamp, and a hi-vis vest or hat in your kit though, should running in the dark be on your agenda.

Overall, the Northshield jacket and pants are versatile layers, well-fitted to shoulder season running | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Verdict: The Northshield is a capable shoulder season training compabion

Overall, I found EMS’ Northshield jacket and pants to be an excellent fit for shoulder season running. They kept me warm when it was cool, and dry when it was snowing or raining. They’re versatile enough to be used in tandem or as separates—as conditions dictate—and have found their way into my regular running clothes rotation. Also worth noting, they’re wicked comfortable—great for those rest days spent chilling out around the house picking through guidebooks, poring over maps, and planning that next big objective.


Escape the Leaf-Peeping Crowds by Boat and Boot at Indian Lake

Autumn is upon us, and the vast hardwood forests of the Northeast are putting on their annual show that rivals any natural spectacle in the world. While the fall season has always been a popular time for hikers and roadside tourists alike to get out and explore, larger crowds than usual are expected this fall due to COVID-19 and the fact that being outside is one of the safest ways to get away from home during these tough times. The Adirondack Mountains have long been a haven for stressed and overworked city dwellers to get back to nature, and unsurprisingly the ever-popular High Peaks region has been experiencing record visitation throughout the summer and early fall. Hoping to avoid the maddening crowds while simultaneously exploring a part of the Adirondacks that we had yet to properly experience, my wife, dog and I recently went on a canoe camping trip to Indian Lake that quickly became our all-time favorite camping trip.

Credit: Joey Priola

The Island Campground

Located in the Southern Adirondacks, approximately a 70-mile or 90-minute drive southwest from Lake Placid, Indian Lake is a 12-mile-long reservoir that runs southwest from the tiny town of Indian Lake. While not quite as wild (the west shore has some development) as some of the more remote ponds and lakes of the Adirondacks, Indian Lake still has a relatively remote feel to it, especially on the eastern shore which is largely Forest Preserve land. The lake is peppered with several rocky islands, ranging in size from nothing more than a few boulders to over 1,000 feet in length. The best thing about Indian Lake is that it possesses the Indian Lake Islands Campground, which consists of 55 campsites (each with a picnic table, an outhouse, and firepit) spread along the lakeshore and islands that can only be accessed via boat. Sites can be booked up to 9 months in advance, and while they’re incredibly popular during the summer, as the temperature begins to drop in the fall, so does the visitation.

Note: Due to COVID-19, the DEC and New York State Parks has temporarily lifted the 9-month reservation window restriction for camping at New York State Parks, including Indian Lake Islands, and bookings for 2021 are currently being accepted.

Credit: Joey Priola

Exploring Kirpens Island

While all of the campsites offer privacy and outstanding views, nothing can beat the experience of camping on your very own private island. Of the 55 campsites at Indian Lake, five of them are on an island with no other campsites. Of this handful of select sites, the most outstanding site might be campsite 2 on Kirpens Island, which offers several advantages compared to the other sites.

Situated due east from Indian Lake Marina, the campsite on Kirpens Island can be quickly accessed via a 20 to 30 minute, mile-long paddle if launching from the marina, as compared to the 8-mile-long paddle if starting from the access point and campground check-in center on the south end of the lake. Kirpens Island is also one of the largest islands on Indian Lake, with countless nooks and crannies along the shore to explore, as well as some informal trails that lead to the far reaches of the island from the camping area on the north side of the island. A number of smaller islands surround Kirpens and make interesting photography subjects, especially in the fall when the berry bushes, maples, and birches that are prevalent on the islands show off their fall colors.

The view from Baldface Mountain’s summit. | Credit: Joey Priola

Multi-Sport Adventure

What really sets Kirpens Island apart from the other sites at Indian Lake, though, is its proximity to the Baldface Mountain Trailhead. The trailhead is a quick five-minute paddle east from camp into a quiet bay and is only accessible by boat. This difficulty of access greatly minimizes the crowds, and on a beautiful Saturday with near-peak foliage conditions, we had the trail and summit all to ourselves. After beaching your boat on the shore near a large boulder marked with white paint, an easy 0.8-mile-long trail with red trail markers and 550 feet of elevation gain weaves through the forest before breaking out on a rocky ledge perched just above the treetops, with the long blue swath of Indian Lake and its islands spreading out in the distance. Fall views don’t get any better than this, as the predominantly hardwood forest that surrounds Indian Lake bursts with a vibrant array of red, orange, yellow, and purple in late September to early October. After enjoying the view from Baldface, head back down to the lake and explore the islands near Kirpens, marveling at the banded metamorphic bedrock that the islands consist of, which makes for fantastic photo opportunities.

Once back at camp, cap off a spectacular day of autumn exploration in complete solitude by watching the sun set over Indian Lake and Snowy Mountain from an open ledge high above the lake on the west side of the island, and perhaps raise a glass of your favorite beverage to toast your own private piece of autumn heaven.

Credit: Joey Priola

Looking over The Clove and the Hudson River from the Butter Hill Trail.

Four Fall Hikes and Breweries in the Lower Hudson Valley

It’s hard to go wrong with a day trip to the Hudson Valley and that rings especially true in the fall. The little towns are all a bustle, and it seems like there’s a pumpkin patch or an apple orchard around every corner. In the hills, from the Hudson Highlands all the way up through the Catskills, the changing season is an undeniable presence—the air has grown crisp, cool, and fragrant, and the turning of the leaves has transformed the forest into a spectacle equal parts brilliant and humbling.

It’s in the fall that the region’s many excellent trail networks—some of the finest and most accessible in the Northeast—are at their peak. So, what better way to take in all the splendor of autumn in the Hudson Valley than with a hike? How about a hike that ends up at a brewery? The Hudson Valley has tons—and many of them are just a short road walk or drive away from the area’s finest trails.

Ward Pound Ridge
A view of the Cross River Reservoir from a lookout point above Leatherman’s Cave in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. | Credit: John Lepak

Ward Pound Ridge/Captain Lawrence Brewing Company

Located in the hilly northeastern limits of Westchester County is Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, a 4,300-acre park that boasts 45 miles of trails that meander through pleasant woodlands, over rocky escarpments, and pass several interesting natural features.

One such feature is Leatherman’s Cave, a large cave in a rocky hillside that is known to have been a frequent dwelling of the Civil War-era wanderer—who’s storied 360-mile circuit through southeastern New York and western Connecticut is the stuff of local legend. At 4.0 miles, linking up Ward Pound Ridge’s Leatherman’s Loop Trail with its Green-and-Red and Yellow Trails is a far easier undertaking than its namesakes’ storied route—and, with its wide woods roads and gentle grades, it makes for a great day hiking option.

Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in nearby Elmsford—a half hour drive from Ward Pound Ridge—is a great place to spend a post-hike afternoon. The brewery has ample room both inside and out and, in addition to an ever-changing selection of beer on tap, has an outstanding food menu to boot. The Powder Dreams New England IPA is a definite favorite.

Bridge from the Timp-Torne Trail.
A misty morning view of the Hudson River and the Bear Mountain Bridge from the Timp-Torne Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Popolopen Torne/Peekskill Brewery

The panoramic view from the bald, rocky summit of Popolopen Torne is an iconic one: the rolling, wooded hills of the Hudson Highlands frame the Bear Mountain Bridge where it spans the river. To the south, Bear Mountain looms; across the Hudson, just past the bridge is Anthony’s Nose; on the Torne itself, beyond the summit to the North is a solemn, humbling memorial to fallen soldiers. It’s a breathtaking place that’s emblematic of the region and popular as a result. That it’s accessed by a fun, rocky scramble only makes it that much more of a must-do.

A short loop on the Timp–Torne Spur Trail will take you up and down in a neat and tidy mile but starting at the Fort Montgomery hikers’ parking area—and linking together the Popolopen Gorge, 1777W/1779, and Timp–Torne Trails—is the higher value way to go, logging 4.3 miles all told.

A short six mile drive across the Bear Mountain Bridge and down US-202 will land you at Peekskill Brewery in the heart of downtown Peekskill. An outstanding range of beers is complimented by a food menu full of top-notch pub fare. Give the Eastern Standard IPA—a classic, reliable single IPA—a try.

Looking over The Clove and the Hudson River from the Butter Hill Trail.
Looking over The Clove and the Hudson River from the Butter Hill Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Storm King and North Point/Industrial Arts Brewing Company

From across the river, the glowering bulk of Storm King Mountain cuts an impressive and intimidating silhouette. From its primary trailhead on the other side of the mountain, the orange-blazed Butter Hill Trail’s steep and rocky ascent is perhaps equally intimidating. Most hikers visit Storm King for the panoramic views that a 2.5 mile loop hike linking this trail with the yellow-and-blue-blazed Stillman and white-blazed Bypass Trails deliver.

At 6.5 miles though, a figure-eight hike linking up the Butter Hill, Stillman, Bypass, Howell, and Stillman Spring Trails is a great way to way to work up a thirst and get just about everything Storm King State Park has to offer, including the rocky twin summits of Butter Hill and Storm King Mountain, the deep, quiet woods of The Clove, and the grassy, bald summit of North Point.

With locations in Garnerville and Beacon, Industrial Arts Brewing Company is a convenient stopping point for any hike in the Lower Hudson Valley. It’s in their diverse range of incredibly drinkable pale ales where Industrial Arts shines, from light and easy New England Pale Ales to hoppy and flavorful DIPAs. Get started with Wrench, their hazy, citrusy, and delicious flagship New England IPA.

A foggy day in late fall, looking back over the Breakneck Ridge Trail.
A foggy day in late fall, looking back over the Breakneck Ridge Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Breakneck Ridge and Mount Beacon/Hudson Valley Brewery

Breakneck Ridge is no secret and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a steep and thrilling hike, with crazy views of the Hudson Highlands, that’s close to the city and accessible by public transportation. Even in the height of summer, with all the crowds, it’s worth the trip—but in the off-season, with the promise of beer at the other end, it’s on another level.

Instead of the loop hike you’ve already read about, try this 7.0 mile one-way route that follows the white-blazed Breakneck Ridge Trail up and over its famous opening scramble—some 1,250 feet of gain in 0.75 miles—and traces the rough ridgeline as it gains and loses elevation on its way to South Beacon Mountain’s open summit and fire tower.  Descend via the red-blazed Casino Trail, which will ultimately deliver you to the city of Beacon.

A mile of road walking later, and you’re at Hudson Valley Brewery. Located in a refurbished factory adjacent Fishkill Creek, Hudson Valley Brewery is known for its unique selection of “sour IPAs,” a tarter version of the ubiquitous New England IPA. It’s hard to go wrong here, but if the Apotheosis Sour IPA is on tap, give it a go.

Once all is said and done, another brief road walk (1.5 miles) will bring you to the Beacon Train Station, where a short ride on the Metro-North will bring you back to the start of the hike at Breakneck Ridge.


Doc Benton and the Haunting of Mount Moosilauke

Mount Moosilauke, a favorite of New England hikers, is no exception to the ghost stories that haunt the White Mountains. The story of the sinister Doctor Thomas Benton is well-known thanks to the enthusiastic raconteurs of Dartmouth College Outing Club, who have been telling this spooky tale to first-year students since the 1920s. Like many of the best campfire tales, the story of Doc Benton has evolved over the years, with each teller adding their own flourish to a tale about a man seeking eternal life. Consequently, while the broad strokes of this legend of terror remain the same, the demonic details attributed to Benton grow in every telling.

The Rise of Thomas Benton

The story begins in Benton, New Hampshire, a village in the shadow of Mount Moosilauke. The only child of a poor family, Benton developed a reputation for his quiet demeanor and extraordinary academic skill at an early age. The village needed a doctor and, recognizing Tom’s aptitude, raised money to send him to medical school in Germany.

At the University of Heidelberg, Tom excelled in the classroom but failed to connect with his German-born peers. His only friend was an eccentric professor, with whom he shared an interest in medicine, science, theology, and, most tellingly, the quest for eternal life. The two spent long nights theorizing and conducting experiments. Shortly before graduation, the professor passed away, leaving Tom his research, a collection of arcane books, and a locked chest, which followed Tom back to Benton when he returned to fulfill his duty as the village doctor.

The Fall of Doctor Thomas Benton

In every rendition of this ghost story, Benton’s downfall begins when he returns to the New Hampshire village of his youth. The details for why vary greatly. In some versions, he becomes distraught soon after arriving, learning that his parents died while he was in Germany. In others, he first establishes a renowned medical practice, marries, and has a child, only to be devastated when his wife and child die from contagious disease.

These details aside, every telling of this legend has Benton responding to the loss by withdrawing from the community and retreating to a small shack on the side of Mount Moosilauke. The only possessions he took with him were the books and small chest left to him by his professor. After moving to the cabin, Doctor Benton returned to town occasionally to resupply, but as time went on, his visits became less frequent. Eventually, younger townspeople knew of Doctor Benton as only the strange person—his appearance having shifted from prosperous young doctor to long-haired, crazed-looking hermit—living in the woods.

The Legend of Doc Benton

Many speculate that Benton resumed his search for eternal life while alone on the mountainside. Furthering suspicions, local livestock started showing up dead, the only sign of injury to the animals a small wound behind their ears. The strange happenings escalated when the dead body of a young man was stolen from the undertaker, only to reappear later with a small wound behind his ear as well.

Villagers began to speculate about what Benton was doing in the woods—some thinking he discovered the secret to eternal life but at the cost of his sanity, others believing he simply went mad with grief following the tragic loss of his family. Many were willing to look past the doctor’s peculiar behavior, until finally things took a turn.

One winter evening in the 1820s, a small girl named Mary did not come inside when called for dinner. When Mary’s mother went to get her, she saw a set of adult footprints in the snow leading out of town toward Mount Moosilauke. She summoned the townspeople and together they followed the trail of footprints to Tunnel Brook Ravine. There they observed a shadowy figure in a dark cloak with a long grey beard, recognized by some as Doctor Benton.

With the snow intensifying, the villagers closed in, pushing the doctor toward the steep-walled canyon. Seemingly trapped, Benton, with Mary under his arm, is said to have climbed one of the near-vertical cliffs boxing him in to elude capture. Atop the cliff, the villagers observed Benton throw Mary to her death, before disappearing forever into the escalating snowstorm. When the townspeople collected Mary’s dead body, they observed the tell-tale wound behind her ear.

The Legend Lives On

Although Doc Benton disappeared that fateful evening, he was not gone for good. In 1860, a missing logger on Mount Moosilauke was found dead, the only observable injury a wound behind his ear. Some 40 years later, a railroad worker in the area was found dead, also with a similar mark behind his ear.

Some say that Benton continued to frequent the area thereafter. Mysteriously creaky floors, open windows, and food disappearing from the cupboards at the Prospect House—a stone structure built on Moosilauke’s summit in 1860—have all been attributed to him. Others claimed to see a dark-cloaked figure fleeing the summit, darting behind the large cairns marking the trail trying to avoid detection.

In the 1970s, a search party was deployed when a solo hiker didn’t return from a trip to the remote Jobildunk Ravine. When the hiker was found, he was covered in bumps and bruises, and in shock, but otherwise uninjured. Once safely away from the mountain, the hiker confessed that a hand pushed him while he was climbing on an exposed ledge.

We can only wonder how many people have caught glimpses of Doc Benton over the years—a hand disappearing behind a tree, the tail of a dark cloak moving behind a cairn, and the glimpse of a long grey beard quickly vanishing into the thick forest—only to write them off as tricks of the imagination. Similarly, our minds wander to the question: Ss it Doctor Benton’s spirit haunting the mountain, or is it in fact the doctor himself, having discovered the secret to everlasting life?


Ghost Towns of the White Mountains: Thornton Gore

Located just a short walk off Tripoli Road south of Lincoln, Thornton Gore is one of the most well-known ghost towns in the White Mountains. Home to 22 farms and a mill in its heyday, “The Gore” (as it was known) is easily accessible and visiting it should be on the list of every aficionado of New Hampshire’s agrarian past.

Credit: Tim Peck

Thornton Gore’s Rise

Unlike other White Mountain ghost towns, most of which were built around the logging industry, Thornton Gore grew out of farming. A testament to the remoteness of early White Mountain communities, Thornton Gore was granted a township in 1763, but it took almost 20 years, until 1781, for the town to incorporate—taking its name from Londonderry, New Hampshire, resident and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Matthew Thornton.

In 1800, Thornton Gore entered its first “growth” stage when one of the town’s original inhabitants, who by this time had acquired much of the land, began selling lots ranging between 80 and 200 acres. Early settlers were drawn by the town’s Free Will Baptist religious beliefs and family connections. They eked out an existence as subsistence farmers, but the going was hard. By 1820, there were just eight established farms, with a total of only 72 cleared acres. The average farm had just nine improved acres: three for hay, one for crops, and five for pasture.

Although the dense forest proved an impediment to early farming endeavors, it proved a vital resource for local residents, providing timber for building, firewood, and maple syrup. The community continued to expand into the mid-1800s, adding a school, church, a couple of mills, and two cemeteries, along with roads to connect everything. By 1850, the town had 1,100 acres cleared for crops, orchards, and pasture, producing products like potatoes, wool, and butter in addition to maple syrup—producing almost a half-ton of the latter New England delicacy.

Credit: Tim Peck

A Slow Demise

Three factors contributed to eventual abandonment of this hardscrabble farming community. First, during the Civil War, many of the town’s able-bodied men left never to return—their lives claimed on the battlefields or their interests piqued by the easier-to-farm soils of southern New England and New York. Second, many residents of New Hampshire’s rural communities like Thornton Gore left for opportunities in mills in the southern part of the state. Third, as the forest surrounding Thornton Gore reclaimed abandoned farms, it began to attract the attention of timber companies.

One company in particular, the New Hampshire Land Company, bought up much of the land in Thornton Gore—by 1900, it owned all but two parcels in the community. This essentially ended the town’s existence, although logging remained active into 1912, with timber companies removing millions of board feet from the surrounding hillsides. The logged land was then sold to the federal government, becoming part of the White Mountain National Forest.

In his 1926 book, Walks and Climbs in the White Mountains, Karl Pomeroy Harrington describes the road between Woodstock and Thornton Gore shortly after its demise: “A fertile valley, opening with a curve to the east, the road lined on both sides with well-tilled farms. The lower hillsides were cleared for pasturage or mowing. Huge barns testified to the productivity of these grassy slopes, and the ruins of mills, schoolhouses, and farm buildings of every sort indicate how desolating has been the influence of modern civilization in this typical abandoned-farm region.”

Credit: Tim Peck

Thornton Gore Today

Today, this ghost town is within earshot of Interstate 93 (on busy weekends, you can hear the distant hum of the highway) and one can only wonder what the early inhabitants would think about people from across the Northeast speeding by this once-remote outpost. Even in-the-know outdoors people have likely passed the remains of this one-time thriving farming community and never known; it sits just off of Tripoli Road (exit 31 on I-93), a popular access point for hiking Mount Osceola, East Osceola, and Mount Tecumseh, along with being home to numerous campsites.

A modern exploration of Thornton Gore begins on Gore Road, found shortly after the USFS cabin on the right—look for the sign saying parking is only allowed on the south side of the road—which once was the main thoroughfare between here and Woodstock. Within a few minutes, the fieldstone foundation of an old home is visible and stone walls appear in the dense forest. The “trail” is also noticeably sturdy underfoot; It’s not hard to imagine it in a time when it saw more use.

After about a half-mile walk from Tripoli Road, you’ll come across an old cemetery with a handful of incredibly well-preserved headstones, some of which have flags next to them to indicate military service. A little further on, the trail forks—staying straight brings you to Talford Brook and a right takes you to the mill site and a few more cellar holes. If you’re making a day out of your trip to Thornton Gore, this is a great place to take a break, as the small waterfall just upriver drowns out the sound of the highway and crystal-clear water provides the type of setting that almost certainly attracted the early settlers.

Credit: Tim Peck

Thornton Gore and the 4,000-Footers

The remnants of Thornton Gore are a worthy destination on their own but they’re also an easy add-on to any trip to bag the peaks that presided over this once-thriving town, namely Mount Osceola, East Osceola, and Mount Tecumseh, all of which have trailheads on Tripoli Road—the natural access point for exploring Thornton Gore.

When taking in the incredible view from Mount Osceola or peering out from one of the numerous vantage points on a trip to the top of Mount Tecumseh, try to imagine what it looked like 200 years ago, the challenge of farming in this wild landscape, and how it was all primarily accomplished without the assistance of modern machinery—only the most successful farms in Thornton Gore had teams of horses and oxen to assist in their labor.

If hiking isn’t on the agenda, hop in the car and head north to explore Livermore, another fascinating White Mountain ghost town.


Video: 10 Reasons to Backpack with a Fanny Pack

See enough time to shoot video of the bear before is disappears.


Four Incredible Fall Backpacking Trips in West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands

With fall foliage that rivals New England, a unique topography reminiscent of the Alaskan and Canadian tundra, and a bevy of wilderness areas flush with epic views but lacking crowds and complex permit systems, the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia possess some of the finest fall backpacking trips in America. From a quick and easy overnight to a multi-day odyssey far from official trails, it features some of the best backpacking you could find anywhere, for backpackers of all ability levels. Put these trips at the top of your backpacking to-do list this fall.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Table Rock

For an easy introduction to what fall backpacking in the Potomac Highlands is all about, head to the Canaan Mountain Backcountry Area and tackle the 2.4-mile roundtrip trek to Table Rock. With a short distance, minimal elevation gain, and astonishing views, Table Rock might be the best bang-for-your-buck hike in the entire state.  Even better, this trail receives surprisingly light hiking pressure since the majority of backpackers head to the nearby Dolly Sods Wilderness.

From the small trailhead parking lot on Canaan Loop Road, take the Table Rock Trail through a pretty forest of hardwoods that will be bursting with color in late September and early October. After 1.2 mostly flat miles, break out of the forest onto appropriately named Table Rock, and behold a 180-degree view of mountains and the Cheat River Valley. Be mindful of crevasses in the rock as you explore, and then set up camp at a protected campsite back in the woods that was passed just before reaching the overlook. Or, if the weather is clear and calm, consider sleeping under the stars out on Table Rock. Wherever you decide to camp, be sure to pack in all the water you’ll need, as there isn’t a water source on this trip. Rise early the next morning to have your coffee while watching the sunrise illuminate the fog-filled valley and colorful autumn foliage before making the return trip to the car.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Dolly Sods Wilderness

Dolly Sods Wilderness is one of the most popular and well-known wilderness areas in West Virginia, and for good reason. With a vast network of trails, a bounty of campsites and several overlooks that provide panoramic views of nothing but seemingly endless wilderness, there are countless routes in Dolly Sods that are perfect for a fall backpacking trip. Since Dolly Sods is a designated Wilderness, be prepared for minimal or no trail markings and to ford creek crossings, all of which helps to preserve a true wilderness feel as much as possible.

For a 19.4-mile (3 nights is best) lollipop loop that showcases the best of Dolly Sods, take the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail north from the Dolly Sods Picnic Area on Forest Service Road 19. In 2.5 miles, the first great views of the trip can be had from a rocky outcrop just off the trail. This overlook on the edge of Red Creek Canyon provides some of the best views in Dolly Sods, with Red Creek Valley below framed by Breathed Mountain and Rohrbaugh Plains. While only 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the view from here is so astounding that it’s worth spending a night at one of the campsites dispersed in the woods near the overlook. Sunsets from here are incredible, and on cool fall mornings fog often fills the valley below, making for truly dreamy photo conditions.

After breaking camp, continue on the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail and pass the Wildlife Trail on the right at 3.1 miles. Continue straight and drop down into Red Creek Canyon and cross Fisher Spring Run at 3.4 miles. Follow Fisher Spring Run Trail down to Red Creek, and pick up the Red Creek Trail to begin a 10-mile counterclockwise loop. Reach Rocky Point Trail on the left at 4.4 miles, which makes for a great side trip (add roughly 2 miles roundtrip) up to Lions Head, a rocky overlook that provides one of the best views in Dolly Sods, and possible campsites nearby. Continuing north from the junction with the Rocky Point Trail on the Red Creek Trail, reach the Breathed Mountain Trail at 6.0 miles. This trip takes you left down the Breathed Mountain Trail, but one could also continue straight down the Red Creek Trail to arrive at a fantastic and popular camping area near some waterfalls on Red Creek called “The Forks.”

Back at the junction with the Breathed Mountain Trail, take this trail west for 2.4 miles and travel through a beautiful forest of spruce and blueberry bogs. This combination of forest flora is more commonly found in the boreal forests of Canada than the Appalachian Mountains, and is especially beautiful in autumn when the berry bushes turn bright red and are a perfect contrast to the dark green spruce forests.  Arrive at the Big Stonecoal Trail at 8.5 miles and turn left to head south down this trail for 2.4 miles before arriving at a trail junction with the Dunkenbarger Trail. Excellent campsites along Big Stonecoal Run can be found here.

Continuing south on Big Stonecoal Trail, the western end of the Rocky Point Trail to Lions Head is passed on the left at 11.6 miles, and in 1.4 more miles ford Red Creek and arrive back at Red Creek Trail at 13.0 miles. The banks of Red Creek possess several wonderful campsites, and Red Creek (named for the reddish-brown tint of the water caused by a high tannins concentration from decomposing red spruce and hemlock needles) is perfect for cooling tired feet after a long day on the trail. Continue heading northeast along the Red Creek Trail for 1.5 miles before hitting the intersection with Fisher Spring Run Trail, at which point you’ll be retracing your steps from the start of the trip back to the parking lot.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

North Fork Mountain

For fans of ridge hikes with near constant views, it doesn’t get any better than an autumn trek along North Fork Mountain. The full length of the ridge hike is 24.7 miles in total from end to end and makes a great shuttle hike if a car can be dropped at both trailheads (it’s about a 40-minute drive one-way between the north and south trailheads). It’s also possible to break this up into smaller shuttle sections, especially if starting from the northern trailhead. From the northern trailhead on CR 28 (Smoke Hole Rd.), ascend switchbacks for 1.6 miles to gain the ridge. Once up on the ridge, views and campsites abound, and there is minimal elevation change. Hike south and take a short side trail on the right that leads to Chimney Top, which provides a spectacular view of distant mountains and autumn foliage peppering the pastoral countryside far below. Countless other vistas await further down the trail, as the ridge never strays far from a clear view.

Three quarters of a mile further south, pass another fine vista, Table Rock (not the same Table Rock as the one previously discussed at the start of this article). If short on time or energy, this makes for a great stopping point, and several nice campsites can be found dispersed in the forest not far from the trail that provide easy access to sunset views from the ridge. From Table Rock, the trail ambles south and passes two spur trails that descend east off the ridge: Landis Trail and Redman Run Trail, reached 4.1 and 8.2 miles from the north trailhead, respectively. Taking either of these trails would provide a shorter shuttle hike alternative.

The main disadvantage of being up on the ridge is the scarcity of water. Save for a semi-reliable spring that’s passed halfway through the trail, there’s no water sources up on the ridge, so it’s best to pack in enough water to last the length of the trip in case the spring is dry.

The views continue on the southern portion of the trail, with so many overlooks that they don’t even have names. While the north half of the trail is more interesting, the southern half to the southern trailhead is still beautiful, and completing the full length of the trail is a rewarding and recommended experience.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Roaring Plains

For the seasoned backpacker looking for a trip that’s as challenging as it is scenic, there’s no better destination in the Potomac Highlands than a part off-trail wilderness sojourn in the Roaring Plains West Wilderness. Backpackers with the necessary skills are rewarded with some of the most incomparable solitude, views, and campsites to be found not only in West Virginia, but the entire East Coast. Given the largely off-trail nature of this route, it’s wise to budget extra time in case you get turned around, and to pack a map and compass and know how to use them. A GPS could also be incredibly useful for this trip.

There are several possible routes that can be taken into the Roaring Plains, with the eastern fork of the South Prong Trail (which begins just a half mile down FS 19 from the start of the aforementioned Dolly Sods Wilderness trip) offering a pleasant, relatively flat portal to the rugged terrain that lies ahead. After heading south for approximately 2.5 miles on the oftentimes wet and muddy South Prong Trail, the real fun begins. Look for an unofficial trail on the left, not marked with a trail sign but often marked with a cairn, which heads in a southwest direction through the forest. Take it slow, keeping an eye on your compass and be on the lookout for more cairns marking the way along the faint trail, known as the “Hidden Passage.” After almost a mile of picking your way through the forest, break out into an open meadow with expansive views. Soon after arriving at the meadow, the trail passes one of the finest campsites imaginable, nestled in the flame-red berry bushes and with the kind of expansive, open views that are hard to come by when backcountry camping in the East. This area makes a great basecamp option to do day hikes from, with the top hiking option being an off-trail journey along the rim of Long Run Canyon.

To get Long Run Canyon from the meadows campsite, follow a faint, unmarked trail for about 0.7 miles through the open meadows, until reaching the Pipeline Swath (essentially an old dirt road). A small trickling creek located at this junction is one of the only water sources if camping at the meadows and for the duration of the loop along Long Run Canyon, so top off water bottles here and be sure to treat the water. Take a left to head southeast on the Pipeline for about 0.3 miles until arriving at the remains of an old road, where the real adventure begins.

Turning right, dive into the bush and head in a west-northwest direction to reach the rim of Long Run Canyon. Scan for a faint path possibly marked with cairns or flagging, and budget extra time for this section of the hike, as it’s the sketchiest part from a navigation standpoint. Once you arrive at the canyon rim, the trail is much easier to follow. When in doubt, ensure that the canyon is on your left. The next 2.5 miles are some of finest hiking miles imaginable, with almost constant views out across the canyon into the vast West Virginia wilderness. Heath thickets, spruce, and rocky outcroppings combine to form an incredibly beautiful and unique landscape unlike anything else in the East. While there is minimal elevation change on this section of the hike, since this is an unmaintained trail, there will almost certainly be downed trees to navigate around.

While base-camping at the meadows will make the hike along the canyon rim easier, for the hardy backpacker there are several options for camping along the canyon rim. Although water is hard to come by along the canyon, the views and solitude more than make up for the extra effort of hauling in water. Some of the best campsites are just past possibly the finest view of the day, at a spot called “The Point,” reached 1.5 miles into the hike along the canyon rim. From The Point, head northwest and in one mile arrive at a large campsite with a fire ring. On the north side of the campsite, look for a cairn and the start of your journey away from the canyon rim on the Tee-Pee “trail.” Another unofficial trail that can be a pain to follow, it’s best to set a northeast compass bearing and do your best to follow the faint boot path while sticking to the compass bearing. A half-mile bushwhack will lead to the Roaring Plains Trail, which is an official Forest Service trail. Turn right (east) onto the Roaring Plains trail, and in 0.9 miles again reach the Pipeline Swath. Turn right onto the Pipeline, and head southwest for one mile before arriving back at the base of the meadows, where you’ll turn left and retrace your steps from earlier in the day to return to basecamp in the meadows, having completed one of the most rugged and beautiful fall hikes imaginable.