Published on December 16th, 2014 | by lafelow0
Surprise, Surprise—Three Hikes that Kinda Surprised Me
I did a lot of advance research when plotting out my hikes for researching Best Day Hikes on the Appalachian Trail: New England. I checked route maps, distance, location and trail profiles. So I had a pretty good idea what I was getting myself into most of the time—most of the time.
Still, out of 45 hikes jammed into just a few months, there is bound to be a couple of interesting experiences. So here’s a little behind the scenes of how it went on three of those hikes that didn’t turn out to be quite what I expected. The first two were simply much more intense that I was thinking. The third had something at the summit that completely took me by surprise.
Jug End State Reservation
Ok, I am secure enough in my outdoor abilities and experience that I can admit it—I blew it on this one. I misread the contour map and made plans based on incomplete information. When I went back to double check the map (as well as double-checking my sanity), I could see that part of the contour map was simply cut off on the Massachusetts DCR map of the area. Thank you very much.
Anyway, I was anticipating a fairly kid-friendly hike along the top of a ridgeline. Actually, that’s exactly what it was, as long as you could get dropped by a helicopter on the first open ledge. The Jug End hike is a nice up and down ramble along a ridgeline. I just didn’t realize at first that ridgeline runs along the top of Mount Bushnell, which you must first ascend.
After a few moments of hiking through the forest at a moderately steep grade, I came face to face with the side of Mount Bushnell. This daunting cliff appeared before me with a gnarly rocky strewn trail that switched back and forth dramatically up the cliff side. One false move or slip-up here and things would get real ugly real quickly. After a lot of hand over hand scrambling and climbing and laughing at myself for not anticipating the true nature of this hike, it was ultimately worthwhile. The views from several spots along the ridge are worth every step, lunge and heave.
But kid-friendly?!? No. Not unless your kids are already Navy SEALs or Army Rangers.
Old Mount Blue
Just read that name—Old Mount Blue. Doesn’t that sound nice and comforting? Like an old friend with whom you’d share a glass of lemonade on the front porch on a hot summer day? Sure. Hold that thought.
Through a combination of factors, I would have to say that the Old Mount Blue hike was far and away the single most dangerous hike out of the 45 I completed for the book research. First of all, its location is extraordinarily remote. This was the first hike in northwestern Maine that actually was not even situated in a legally incorporated town. The hike is located in this parcel of land called North Andover Surplus. Sounds like something you’d buy at Home Depot, eh? This is the first chunk of land just north of the town of Andover. I didn’t expect to have a cell signal out there, but the first time I was out there, I couldn’t even get a GPS signal!
So there’s that. Then there’s the character of the hike itself. Often while hiking along, I would have a notebook in one hand, pen in the other. When I noted something I wanted to observe, I’d stop and jot down a few notes—pretty straightforward. About five minutes into the hike up the side of Old Mount Blue, I had to stuff my notebook in my pocket and was using both hands in an extended section of hand over hand climbing up the side of this cliff. It was like Jug End, but longer and steeper and much more treacherous.
At one point, I was climbing, breathing heavy, sweating, cursing and wondering who thought this route would be a good idea. I also marveled at the stone stairways and other trail maintenance features. I was getting beat up hiking. I couldn’t imagine being on the trail crew! I can only hope they were fully rigged with climbing gear and harnesses. A fall here would end badly. The cliff dropped steeply for about 70-80 feet, and was punctuated with off angle trees and sharp rocks. They wouldn’t find you until the vultures started circling. And I was wearing a day pack! Through hikers must really have to watch their step here.
It was a nice sense of accomplishment—and exhaustion—when I completed that hike.
White Rock Ledge
The hike up White Rock Ledge in central Vermont was a fairly typical combination of steep sections, stream crossings, and dense almost arboreal forest. It was what awaited me at the summit that truly gave me shivers. I almost feel bad revealing this, like I should just say do this hike and enjoy what you find at the summit. Then I wouldn’t be doing my job though. Plus, I suspect it changes over time.
The final lunge to the rounded, heavily forested summit cap of White Rock Ledge is an extremely well defined trail moving up through a dense grove medium height pines. There’s no danger of wandering off the trail here. In fact, I don’t think you could! The forest is that dense.
As you emerge from this corridor of conifer into the slight clearing under a higher canopy of pines, you’ll see what I’ve been talking about. The summit of White Rock Ledge is marked with dozens of cairns built with the opaque milky quartz that is indeed the namesake of White Rock Ledge. People must have been building these for years. There are large cairns, small cairns, straight up cairns, circular cairns, even cairns built into the crook of a tree limb. The effect is quite dramatic. I got chills up my spine when I walked into this spectacular garden of cairns, like I had just discovered an Indian burial ground or something. Anyway, I hope I didn’t spoil the surprise, but trust me it will still be equally dramatic when you first see it with your own eyes.