Monday, July 23, 2012

Four Days in Northern New Hampshire with Family and Friends Hiking, Paddling, Tenting and Moose Sighting

Grab a cup of coffee or another favorite beverage, kick up your feet, and enjoy how a family bonds in the great north woods of New Hampshire.  My 18-year-old nephew Austin graduated from his southern California (CA) high school.  For Austin to achieve this educational milestone, my wife Cathy and I arranged for him to fly to New Hampshire in July to experience our “Live Free or Die” outdoors.

The four-day trip describes:
(1)   Hiking Tuckerman Ravine Trail from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Pinkham Notch hut to the AMC Lake of the Cloud (LOC) hut for a one-night stay.
(2)   Hiking from LOC hut to the peak of Mt Washington, the highest mountain in the northeast at 6,288 feet and "Home of the World's Worst Weather".
(3)   Tenting for two days at Lake Francis State Park in the Connecticut Lakes area in Pittsburg, NH.
o   Hike to and around the 4th Connecticut Lake located on the border of Canada and the United States. The 4th Connecticut Lake is the headwaters of the 410 miles long Connecticut River
o   Paddle the Third Connecticut Lake
o   Paddle Lake Francis
o   Moose sightings on 18 mile Moose Alley

In addition to Austin and me, our fellow trekkers were his father (my brother Dennis), my sons Timothy and Shaun, my two grandchildren 15-year-old Madison and 12-year-old Carson, Ron my brother-in-law, and invited friends Justin and his 17-year-old daughter Sarah.  Ten would hike to the Lake of the Clouds (LOC) hut and Mt Washington, and seven of us would continue to the Great North Woods Lake Francis State Park campground.

Preparing the Hike to Lake of the Clouds Hut (LOC) and Mount Washington

As the hiking trek leader I had responsibility for the safety of my fellow outdoor enthusiasts:
· Which trail should we take? I had hiked Tuckerman’s many times, and although Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail is one of the most dangerous trails to LOC and Mt Washington, I wanted my group to experience the scenic, excitement, and knowledge of hiking this unique trail.
· What time in the morning do we start our hike to LOC?  LOC serves their family-style meals at 6 pm sharp (breakfast at LOC is at 7 am sharp).  I expected the hike from Pinkham to LOC to be between 4 and five hours.
· What kind of clothing, supplies, and food do we need for a one-day overnight hike in the White Mountains?  Hiking Tuckerman Ravine Trail is not to be taken likely.  Snow, high winds, rain, lightning, and fog can be expected year-round – this means ALWAYS prepare to spend the night on the trail in the mountains.
· What emergency supplies do we need in case of an unanticipated overnight while hiking?
ü  AMC’s Ten Essentials for a Safe Hike are mandatory.  I enforced this by giving each person their own whistle and flashlight.
ü  For each person I provided a 3 ml / 30-gallon contractor bag (aka trash bag) in case we had to immediately camp on the trail (or daresay get lost for an overnight).  To use this bag we would make holes in the corner of the bag for our eyes and mouth, slip the bag over the head, and have some level of protection.
ü  Duct tape. You never know when this can come in handy e.g. broken eye glass frame, sling, strap, etc.

You need to be in good physical shape for a five-plus hour hike up Tuckerman’s Ravine with sections nearly straight up (no need for climbing ropes), but certainly, there are places where you use your hands to assist in crawling up rocks.
My training schedule included two hikes up Uncanoonuc Mt in Goffstown, NH.  Uncanoonuc, combined with two months of four times a week speed walking four miles in my hiking boots, prepared me for Mt Washington, and in particular climbing the headwall of Tuckerman Ravine.

An Educational Dinner
Hmm, how do I emphasize the importance of hiking safety to teenagers? The night before our trip my wife Cathy made a great spaghetti dinner for Austin, Madison, and Carson. This dinner was my opportunity to stress safety and the necessary items for the hike. Unannounced, I demonstrated my hiking whistle (One toot for, “Where are you?” Two toots, “Come to me”, and three toots, “Emergency”.) I gifted each a whistle and asked them to demonstrate a signal. Yes, they thought I was “loony”, but indeed they practiced a lifesaving skill.
We talked about hiking in groups. My son, Tim, has hiked with me many times and has my confidence in tight situations. He would lead one group up the mountain. Ron was also experienced, and he would lead another group. The sweep group (the slow hikers) would be led by me. Other than the aforementioned, no one was to get ahead of their leader – no matter what. We did not want to experience a lost hiker.
We talked about the importance of stopping every 10 to 15 minutes to drink water.  An earlier hiking involvement, followed by a wilderness first aid course, made me realize dehydration can cause nausea and headaches and is easily avoided by frequent drinking of water.  Mt Washington is a steep, long hike, and hydration is critical for our troops.

I emphasized no cotton clothing – including underwear.  I emphasized this “strange request” by asking, “How long does it take cotton to dry out after getting wet?”  In survival situations, cotton is known as "DEATH CLOTH." Cotton holds moisture instead of wicking it away from the skin, and when wet, cotton has zero insulating properties.

Pinkham Notch to Lake of the Clouds (LOC)

I had concerns about guiding my group safely up to Lake of the Clouds.  Before, when Tim and I took the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Lake of the Clouds hut, we found extensive fog and could see only a few feet ahead.  On that trek, we used cairns, the rock piles designed to designate a trail, as the means to ensure we kept on the trail.  I needed to watch closely the expected Mt Washington area weather.  I would not put my party in danger if the weather report indicated severe weather.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Enjoy this short video of our hike up Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Lake of the Clouds Hut followed by a next day hike to Mt Washington.

The northern tip of New Hampshire has a pristine area known as the Great North Woods.  I wanted Austin and my grandchildren to enjoy and appreciate this treasure of New Hampshire. Its many summer outdoor opportunities include paddling and fishing the Connecticut (CT) Lakes (Forth CT, Third CT, Second CT Lake, First CT, and Lake Francis), hiking the Fourth CT, and Moose sightseeing.
Moose Watching.
The moose is the biggest and most mysterious four-legged inhabitant of northern New Hampshire.  Seeing a moose is always a thrill for me. Certainly, for Austin and my grandkids, the thought of seeing these huge six to seven-foot-tall and 700 to 1200-pound animals was an expectation like waiting to get a glimpse of Santa Claus!  There are 6,000 or so moose in New Hampshire. The Connecticut Lakes area, in particular, enhances the opportunity to see a moose. 
The last 18 or so miles on route 3 in Pittsburg are designated, Moose Alley.  Driving slowly on Moose Alley at 5 am also enhances your chance to see a moose.  And, dusk is another good time. 
What is the best way to find moose?  My answer is always simple – look for cars pulled alongside the road.  For two days at dawn and dusk, we drove very slowly up Route 3.  See our success here.

As we hiked to the Fourth Connecticut Lake I shared a history lesson not readily known.  For a few years in the 1830s, an area of today's Pittsburg, NH was an independent republic, not part of New Hampshire and not part of the United States. The US attempted to tax the 360 inhabitants, and Canada tried to make them serve in its military, so the people decided to establish their own sovereign nation called, The Republic of Indian Stream. The existence of the Republic was ended by New Hampshire in 1835.  Later, the Webster -Ashburton Treaty of 1842 established the border between Canada and the United States – the border markers that we would crisscross as we hiked to the Fourth Connecticut Lake.
Hiking the Fourth Connecticut Lake
The 78-acre Fourth Connecticut Lake is located on the USA/Canada border.  It is called a “Lake”, but in my mind is similar to a small bog or marsh.  The narrow swampy walk around the lake took us a half-hour.  The Fourth CT is the headwaters of the 410 miles long Connecticut River that ends in Long Island Sound.  The trail to the lake starts at the United States-Canada customs border crossing station in Pittsburg, NH on the international border between the United States and Canada.  The whole hike from the customs station to the lake, walk around the lake, a brief ten-minute break, and then hike back, was less than two hours.

Paddle Third Connecticut Lake
This 235-acre Lake is located about a half-mile downhill from Fourth Connecticut.  During our paddle on this pristine lake, we saw beaver lodges and dams, loons, and the outlet to the Second Connecticut Lake.  Carson went for a swim. As we paddled around the northern end of the lake, we stopped to see the inlet from the Fourth Connecticut Lake.
To view a ten-minute combination of the above videos click here.  To view all JPEG pictures Click Here.  To view all Videos Click Here

Bedford Community Television (BCTV) is now showing Four Days in Northern New Hampshire with Family and Friends Hiking, Paddling, Tenting and Moose Sighting.
Steve’s latest book, Outdoor Enthusiast: Never say, “I wish I had…” is now available as an e-Book at Kindle and Nook.