IntroductionThe rain fell lightly as I stepped out of the apartment right around 4 AM that morning in early April 2002. I climbed into my car bound for a mountain known simply as Peak Above The Nubble in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. With a little luck, I would reach the summit of my 88th New England Highest Hundred peak later that day and be home in time for dinner with my pregnant wife and stepson. I knew there would be snow on the mountain. Not such a bad thing when bushwhacking; it's hard to get lost when you can simply follow your own tracks out. A successful summit of Mount Nancy a month prior also left me confident that the snow pack wouldn't be too deep.
Testing the WaterFast forward now to the summer of 2012.
Scar Ridge - August 16, 2013I wouldn't exactly say I was instantly all-in as far as the New England Highest Hundred was concerned but the list was on my mind once again. During the winter, I traveled to New Hampshire for an attempt at Scar Ridge via a difficult bushwhack route from the Kancamagus Highway, but alas, I left my maps at home, entered the woods too far to the west and wound up on the summit of the subsidiary Black Mountain instead.
After the busyness of the early summer wound down (including a climb of Mount Hood for state highpoint #49), I started to get the itch to go hiking once again. A Summit Post friend wanted to hike Allen in the Adirondacks, but we could never settle on a date that worked for both of us, so on August 16, I headed back to New Hampshire for a second whack at Scar Ridge.
This time, I would approach the mountain from the standard Loon Mountain route. The hike starts with an ascent of Loon Mountain's ski trails to the summit, after which one takes a wildcat ski trail heading east and finishes with a bushwhack through thick spruce to the ridge. It is considered one of the more difficult NEHH peaks so I didn't feel too bad about not reaching the summit on my earlier attempt.
The early part of the hike went very well as I capitalized on my recent fitness binge. I didn't feel like I was going real fast but I quickly put a good 2,500 feet in elevation under my feet, got through the bushwhack without difficulty and reached the summit in just about three hours. But then Scar Ridge got even with me. The contours of the route heading back towards Loon pulled me a bit further south than the line I'd used to ascend and I wound up in some epic spruce. I worked hard to correct things and get back on route and had mostly succeeded with the top of Loon in sight. But then I got turned around and confused in a sea of pine and realized I just needed to climb back up whatever I was on to a known location. I pretty much knew I was climbing Scar again but still wanted to get back to the register so that I was 100-percent sure. Folks have gotten lost and killed up here before so while I wasn't panicked, I was aware of the possibility of getting benighted if I didn't figure it out.
At 2 PM, I reached the top of Scar for the second time and started working once again towards Loon. The going was just as tough the second time, but I got back to the ski area no worse for the wear around 4:30 PM. A much longer day than I had anticipated but a memorable trek for sure!
Vose Spur - August 23, 2013One week later, I was back in New Hampshire, excited by the possibility of notching two tough bushwhack peaks on consecutive Fridays and completing my last remaining New Hampshire NEHH peak. Should I succeed, all eight of my remaining unclimbed peaks would be in Maine. The route was straightforward. I would start on the Singal Ridge trail leading towards the summit of Vose Spur's parent Mount Carrigain and then branch off onto the Carrigain Notch trail before starting a bushwhack to the summit of Vose.
I located the first key landmark - a four foot tall boulder along the Carrigain Notch trail - without difficulty and dove into the woods from there. The route took me up a rocky drainage and eventually crested a ridge, where I was able to pick up a fairly obvious herd path. Vose Spur had a prior reputation as the toughest NEHH peak back when I was working on this list more than a decade ago, but clearly the popularity of the New England Highest Hundred had put quite a dent in the difficulty of this peak. The herd path led me to the second key landmark, a talus field that offered expansive views.
A cairn at the upper left of the talus field took me back into the woods and onto the herd path. From here, it took only a short while to cover the final 200 or 300 feet of elevation gain and reach my 92nd NEHH summit. And unlike the previous Friday, this week's descent went just as smoothly as the climb up. I was now done with New Hampshire and had finished the Vermont mountains many years back. Maine, here I come.
Fort Mountain - September 18, 2013Just a few days over a year since my quest for the New England Highest Hundred had been reignited with my ascents of Coe and South Brother, I found myself back in Baxter State Park driving along the very same tote road heading to the very same trailhead. As I mentioned in the "Testing the Water" section, one can hike up to four peaks while completing the Marston Loop agenda. I had climbed two the previous year and was returning today to hike the other two. I had first climbed North Brother in 1996 during my 4,000-footer days, but would have to climb over it again today to reach my real destination ... Fort Mountain.
The morning was crisp and chilly but the skies were clear and the forecast flawless for the day's agenda. I pulled into the Slide Dam picnic and parking area and spotted just one other vehicle. A check of the trail register indicated a party of four heading towards Coe. I would have the woods to myself! Perfect. I quickly fell into a rhythm and peeled off layers as I warmed up.
Gaining elevation en route to the 4,151-foot summit of North Brother was both a joy and a treat. It took only a couple of hours to break above tree-line and the wind picked up as I left the protection of the trees and hauled myself up to the rocky summit of North Brother. The wind was stiff but the sun shone bright, providing the kind of experience that only the mountains can.
From here, the going would get a bit trickier. Once upon a time, Fort was also known as a difficult bushwhack but research seemed to indicate that a herd path had opened up between the two peaks. I had read that the path remained true even when pine branches completely spread across the route. I dressed for battle but had a very easy time covering the distance between the two peaks.
After reaching the open summit, I spent some time exploring the summit ridge, which runs for at least a half of a mile and is mostly level with various bumps along the way. The only true bushwhacking on this day that I encountered was along the eastern half of the summit ridge. After satisfying myself that I had indeed touched the highest ground, I worked my way back to the herd path over North Brother once again and out. It was mid-afternoon by the time I reached my truck as the hike took a bit longer than I had expected, but the day lent itself very well to lingering.
Elephant Mountain - September 19, 2013I would be lying for sure if I said I had been psyched by the thought of my next target the day after my outstanding hike on Fort. The research I had done on Elephant Mountain suggested that this was a mountain that offered ... well, not much. Though it boasts more than 2,000 feet in prominence, I knew I would be spending the entire hike the trees. The real upshot is that the hike isn't long and if I did everything right, I could be done in under four hours.
But I was pleasantly surprised by the homespun feel of the Blue Iris Motel in Rumford Center, Maine and then I saw a moose along the rutted access road to Elephant Mountain. Though I wasn't quite quick enough with the camera, the experience heightened my mood even more.
Starting at an elevation of nearly 2,700 feet, I set foot onto an overgrown logging road by the parking area three miles from South Arm Road and was on my way. The information I had on the hike was spot-on and the logging road led to a herd path which led in turn to a bushwhack along a westerly compass bearing. I'm not going to dwell on the hike much because everything went perfectly and I emerged onto the summit ridge in less than two hours.
Back at my X-Terra before noon, I texted my wife and mentioned that I was thinking of stopping by Lake Willoughby in northern Vermont on my way home. She said to go for it. So I did.
The Shore of Lake WilloughbyAnd so this story ends right where it began: deep in the mountains of Vermont.
I arrived at the parking area at the southern end of Lake Willoughby a little before 2 PM with the idea that I was going to stay there for as long as I felt like. As much of an adrenaline rush as the mountains can sometimes be, the water is equally soothing. It is never hard to convince me to visit a lake or a beach.
Lake Willoughby is especially cool as it is a glacial lake flanked on each side by the mountain the glacier had sliced in two. Mount Pisgah rises straight up from the lake's eastern shore while Mount Hor does the same on the west. And unlike the muddy, stick and leave covered lake bottoms that you encounter in so many mountainous lakes, Lake Willoughby offers a sandy floor.
After taking the time to hike the trail that extends along much of the western shore, I returned to the beach on the south end for a swim and a little relaxation. A fine end to a quick little getaway.