Mountain Day on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington

On August 11, 2016, Japan’s inaugural Mountain Day holiday, I was climbing Mount Fuji with my son and thousands of other hikers. We didn’t know it was Mountain Day, but later, when I learned about the holiday, aimed at getting people out of the office and into the mountains, I was pleased to know we had been part of this first celebration.

In 2017, with summer racing towards its conclusion, I asked my son if he wanted to go on a hike before fall sports practices invaded the calendar.

“Let’s go on Mountain Day,” he said. “Can we hike up Mount Washington?”

Although I’ve visited the summit of Mount Washington a couple of times in recent years (including a week-long January stay at the Observatory), I hadn’t climbed Mount Washington since 1998 or so, when my husband and I, along with a friend, hoisted ourselves up the granite blocks of the Huntington Ravine Trail.  Climbing Washington would be challenging, I knew, but well within our reach as a day hike. The hike would also be a birthday “celebration” of sorts, just as Mount Fuji had been, since my birthday falls on August 10. And I could even get a Diet Pepsi at the summit!

After driving to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, we set off on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail around 10 a.m., with plans to do a loop via the Lion’s Head Trail. The forecast looked good for Mount Washington: Probably no views, with the summit in and out of clouds, and maybe a thunder shower later, but no driving winds or freezing temperatures.

In my memory, the 2.4-mile trek up to Hermit Lake Shelters was a piece of cake, a highway packed on spring mornings with ski-toting hikers jazzed to test their skill on the steep slope of Tuckerman Ravine. In middle-aged reality, this stretch, with its 1,800 feet of elevation gain, was a relentless uphill trudge, interrupted by some flatter sections. Still, we made it to Hermit Lake with no complaints and enjoyed a quick lunch break on the porch.

At Hermit Lake, I peeked inside the main lodge at the counter where on spring days, skiers and spectators can buy candy bars and other treats. That made me think of the Diet Pepsi awaiting me on Washington….and then I remembered: I had left all my money in my car. At the last minute, I’d had a brain cramp and tucked my wallet into the console, because why would I need money on a mountain?

Hermit Lake, just past the Shelters, with the Tuckerman head wall looming above.

Thoughts of Diet Pepsi continued to plague me as I slowly made my way up the steep  trail that ascends Tuckerman Ravine. We had plenty of food, I reminded myself. Water is way better than Diet Pepsi. Artificial sweeteners aren’t healthy. Still, I cursed myself for leaving those dollars in the car.

In the meantime, my son scampered ahead, occasionally waiting for me to catch up. Lagging behind, I wondered if I might find a trail of M & Ms on the rocks, like the ones I used to leave for him as motivation to keep hiking.

We rested briefly at Lunch Rocks, the gallery where spectators gather to watch the drama of spring skiing:  the dramatic falls and wipeouts, the waving hand that signifies a fallen skier has survived.

A summer waterfall cascading in Tuckerman Ravine.

Along the trail, we met other hikers, but far fewer than I expected. Compared to Mount Fuji, the weekday crowds on  Mount Washington are just a sprinkle of people, even at the summit with its cog railway and auto road.

After a steady hour or so of hiking, we emerged from the scrub and hiked over the lip of the ravine, only to face the rock heap of the final ascent.

Hiking up the rock pile as clouds move in over Tuckerman Ravine.

A multi-generational family of hikers ranging in age from 8 to 70-ish climbed over the rocks around us.  “Where’s the trail?” a kid wondered. “Do you just go straight up?”

One of the adults said he’d heard about a train on top of the mountain. If that rumor was true, maybe they could take it down.

“There is a train,” I told him. “It’s been there for over a hundred years. And yes, you can take it down.”

The kid went crazy. “We can take the train, we can take the train!”

I also knew that he could probably take a hiker van shuttle down the auto road, but I didn’t want to get his hopes up too much. With my wallet in the car, those options were off the table for us, but I’d never seriously entertained an alternate route down.  I knew I could hike this mountain.

We continued on, up and over the piles of granite rock. In the distance, I could see a piece of a tower — one of the structures on the summit. And then we were there, landing on the Auto Road, and facing the wooden staircase that led to the summit.

In the clouds on Mount Washington. What the photo doesn’t show: the small line of other visitors, many of them shivering in shorts and flip-flops, waiting patiently for their turn at a photo.

Mount Washington’s summit hosts several buildings, including a weather observatory, gift shop and the multi-purpose state park building that houses a cafeteria, post office, and the Mount Washington Observatory’s “Extreme Weather” exhibit.  The cafeteria food didn’t look very appetizing — hot dogs and slabs of pizza — but I considered making an effort to set up Apple Pay on my cellphone to buy a treat. But then I saw the “Cash Only” sign. A relief, as I didn’t really want to fiddle with my phone on a mountaintop. We would get our treat in the valley below.

The “stagecoach” gift shop building for the Cog Railway originally was the weather observatory, where on April 12, 1937, weather observers recorded the world’s highest wind speed ever,  at 231 mph. That record was surpassed several years ago, but still stands as the highest speed manually recorded by a person.  If you think about hurricanes and what they do to wooden structures, it’s amazing that the observatory building was not torn apart. It is (and was) secured with chains.

By the time we began to hike down, the clouds were drizzling rain. We began the rocky descent on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, aiming for the first left, to the Lion’s Head Trail. We wondered if we should stop and gear up with rain jackets and pants, or wait it out a bit in our damp fleece. Getting wet on Mount Washington can be lethal, but I wasn’t sure if we’d stay dry with the rain gear, given the humidity. We decided to push on through the drizzle.

Heading down the mountain towards Lion’s Head. The footing is rough and rocky as you make your away across the mountain, with little evidence of “trail” (but well-marked by cairns).

The Lion’s Head Trail travels above the northern edge of Tuckerman Ravine and then, after a short steep descent, links up with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail below Hermit Lake. I’m glad we took this route, as the descent didn’t feel overly steep, and the trail was mostly empty. We only encountered two other parties on Lion’s Head.

The Lion’s Head Trail heads down along the northern flank of Tuckerman Ravine,  offering great views into the Ravine.

By now, I was definitely feeling beat up. On Lion’s Head, I stopped to rest and take stock of my snack supply. I pulled out a Clif Bar I had tossed into my pack after reaching into the inner recesses of my kitchen cabinet. The expiration date read “16April13.”  Did that mean April 16, 2013 (which meant the bar was probably baked some time in 2012)? Or April 13, 2016? My son confirmed the former.  But the bar was sealed.  If I was waiting out a nuclear disaster, I would eat it. So I did (to no obvious ill effects).

After making our way down the Lion’s Head trail, including one ladder, we reconnected with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail around 5 p.m.  I knew my goal of getting to Pinkham Notch by 6:15 was well within reach. On the way down, we passed several parties hiking up to Hermit Lake Shelters, mostly Boy Scouts with middle-aged leaders carrying large backpacks. I felt for those guys, both for the heavy packs and the complaining kids.  As we closed in on Pinkham, one kid hiking uphill asked me if they were near the Hermit Lake shelters. I asked his leader if  we were almost to Pinkham Notch.

“Pretty close,” he said grimly, fully aware that our proximity to Pinkham meant his distance from Hermit Lake. But they were out there hiking and, in the end, would have a great time. Except that the forecast called for a hard rain in the morning. Still, the hike would become an epic tale. The boys would be proud of themselves, and the men, well, they would feel satisfied that the boys had learned they could do something hard.

We made it back down to Pinkham Notch by 6:30 and high-tailed it to Elvio’s Pizza in North Conway, a long-established pizza joint where I’m pretty sure I ate pizza after my first hike up Mount Washington, back on October 31, 1980. On that day, we had left my college campus at 4 a.m. and returned around 8 p.m., in time for Halloween parties. I got dressed up in a silver go-go girl dress with white boots that I’d found at Goodwill, danced until 2 a.m., then fell into bed. When the dorm fire alarm sounded some time later (a regular weekend occurrence), my roommates left me in my bed because they could not shake me awake.

This time, armed with a Diet Coke to keep me awake, I set off on Route 16, aiming for home. We arrive after 9 p.m., feasted on birthday cake, and then fell into bed without dancing.  An epic Mountain Day and a new tradition.  Although I could hard move the next day, we were already planning for next year. Somehow I need to work in the dancing.

Sources and resources

I planned on eight hours for this hike, because I know I am a slow uphill hiker, and I usually budget one mile per hour, including rest stops. Several sources I’ve read suggest planning on two miles per hour, with an extra half-hour for every 1,000-feet of elevation gain, which would make Mount Washington a six-hour hike.

The weather in the “higher summits” of the Presidentials can be very different from the valleys and other mountains. If you are planning on hiking Mount Washington, I recommend checking the higher summits forecast at the Mount Washington Observatory, where you also read a great article about the many who have died on the mountain, Surviving Mount Washington.

For a gripping account of the dangers on Mount Washington, I also recommend Nicholas Howe’s 1999 book, Not Without Peril.

Friends of Tuckerman’s Ravine offers many great photos, history and other information about this beautiful place on Mount Washington.

And finally, my posts from my week-long winter stay on Mount Washington:

The world’s worst weather: Bring it on!

Cat vs. Camel: An epic battle on Mount Washington provides an opportunity to write about Marty

Crisis on Mount Washington: The Empty Sugar Barrel

The wind howls, and we stir the pot

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36-hour Montana Road Trip: Driving into the Big Hole and the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway

In 1905, Montana pioneer Joe Maurice experienced the worst possible losses. Although blind in one eye from a horse kick, the Belgium immigrant had persevered in eking out a living at the homestead he’d established on Gold Creek, supplementing cattle with gold prospecting.

But that winter, his wife died of diphtheria, which by 1905 was curable if you could get to a doctor with anti-diphtheria serum. In the spring — possibly before he had the chance to bury his wife in the frozen ground — his two young children died of typhoid fever.  Was Joe all alone? Or did neighbors help him to bury his family, or with the grim task of piling rocks on the fresh graves so that animals didn’t dig up his loved ones?

On our 36-hour Montana road trip, we stopped to visit these lonely graves, marked by blank wooden headstones, just off to the side of the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway (Route 73) in southwestern Montana’s Beaverhead County.

On this June day, we saw few cars. A hundred years ago, this valley was an even lonelier place. I wonder how diphtheria, a highly contagious disease, managed to invade Joe’s home. Had a passing traveler carried the bacteria (which can be transported by health “silent carriers”)?  Had Joe brought the diphtheria back from a trip to town?

Most of us would be crushed by these losses. I haven’t been able to find much additional information on Joe–if he married again, or had more children–but the Forest Service road sign told me that he Joe persevered. Having arrived in this valley in 1883, at age 13, Joe was determined to stay on, perhaps mining copper at the mine bearing his name on a nearby mountain flank. Joe lived at his homestead until 1963, when friends persuaded the 93-year-old pioneer to move to a rest home, where he died a few years later at age 97.

On Montana’s Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway in late June, alpine meadows and mountain “parks” bloom with lupine and yellow daisies– beauty that belies the challenges faced by those who tried — and are still trying — to make a living here.

Joe’s story is one of many that lie beneath the pavement of this route running between the Big Hole Valley and the hamlet of Wise River, Montana. Today, as in the past, cattle — along with elk, bear, and other animals — remain far more common than people.

Cows, cows, everywhere, as we encounter a ranch family escorting a herd of cattle to summer mountain pastures. Two pickup trucks and five people on horseback were herding the cattle along a five-mile stretch of the Byway.

On our 36-hour road trip, we aimed to discover new territory in the vast state of Montana. We were visiting a friend in Darby, in the scenic Bitterroot Valley, which is the Montana of travel brochures: snow-capped mountains and rivers teeming with trout. The Bitterroot is great for fishing, relaxing, and hiking, with miles of trails in the Bitterroot National Forest.  But we wanted to explore further afield.

With our borrowed 1999 Chevy Lumina and a full tank of gas, I knew I could cram a lot into 36 hours — a day, a night, and another full day — without feeling cramped. We left Darby after breakfast, heading south on Montana Route 93 to the Lost Trail Pass, near the Montana/Idaho border, and then up and over Chief Joseph Pass, on Route 43, into the Big Hole Valley.

Our first stop was Big Hole National Battlefield, where the Big Hole River meanders through a grassy meadow. In the summer of 1877, this meadow was the site of  a small but significant battle between the U.S. Cavalry, and a band of Nez Perce who were resisting forced removal onto reduced reservation lands in Idaho (the government seized the land  after prospectors discovered gold on the reservation).  Here, the Cavalry surprised the sleeping Nez Perce, with many women and children killed in their teepees. But the Nez Perce warriors rallied, counter-attacked, and ended up forcing the Cavalry to retreat, thus allowing the surviving band members to flee.

When we visited the Battlefield, rain was falling, so we didn’t walk out to the memorial site, but inside the small visitor center, we touched the howitzer cannon that the Nez Perce captured from the Cavalry. I’m thankful that the National Park Service permits visitors to touch this object, giving visitors a tangible connection to the Nez Perce fighting to preserve their way of life as well as the Cavalry soldiers who died that day.

Back in the car, we drove to the tiny town of Wisdom for lunch at the local café, a busy spot, with one waitress trying to cover 12 tables. Then we returned to the road, turning on t0 Route 278 and into the wide open heart of the Big Hole Valley.

Big Hole Valley, overlooking Hamilton Ranch.

Was this land truly a “valley”? Or something else, like a tableland, or a plain?  It was so wide and open, with green sagebrush stretching for miles in all directions, and mountains in the distance. I had never seen a landscape as vast as the Big Hole Valley (most of it ranch land, in private hands).

We continued on  Route 278, heading towards Bannack State Park, once the territorial capital of Montana and a thriving community of 3,000 souls. Today, Bannack is an official ghost town, full of abandoned buildings, rusty artifacts, and stories.

The old jail, with sod roof, at Bannack State Park. At its peak, after the 1862 gold discovery, Bannack was a thriving town of 3000 people. Although people began to leave by the turn of the century, the mining industry remained active through World War II.

Visitors can wander, at their own risk, through any unlocked building.  You have to watch your step on loose floorboards and creaking stairs, as Bannack is not prettied up for visitors.

Bannack’s main drag. The building with the cupola on top was built to serve as both a Masonic Lodge (second story) and the town’s schoolhouse (first floor).

Bannack’s one-room schoolhouse. At one point, the town had so many students that some attended classes in the Methodist Church and in the Masonic Lodge hall on the second floor.

 

Bellying up to the bar in Skinner’s Saloon, which served as the headquarters for the notorious criminal gang, Plummer’s Road Agents. After the gang’s demise, the saloon became a store.

As thunder clouds moved in, we returned to the Chevy and backtracked west to set off north on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, heading towards Elkhorn Hot Springs. We stopped first at the Grasshopper Inn, because its many roadside signs advertised gas for sale.

But the inn was out of gas. We knew we would be fine, but the empty gas tank signaled the struggle common to much of rural America: the slow depopulation and decline that perpetuates itself. If you can’t offer a necessary product like gasoline, then it’s even harder to attract people to come visit, never mind stay.

A few miles past the Grasshopper, we turned off to Elkhorn Hot Springs, which exactly met my expectations for rustic western hot springs: cabins with no running water, a restaurant/main lodge serving adequate food, and two hot spring pools that could benefit from a little love, but which were clean and relaxing.

The “cool” pool (96ish degrees) at Elkhorn Hot Springs. An adjacent pool is around 101 degrees, and a sauna in the building ranges from 104-106 degrees F.  The water is crystal clear and clean; the discoloration stems from the pool’s pitted concrete bottom. A room at the Lodge for one person goes for around $35 a night, including breakfast and the hot springs. Now that’s a bargain!

Elkhorn, it seems, is teetering on survival, as is Maverick Mountain, the ski area next door. The hot springs and the mountain are just too far away from large numbers of people.    Like so many places in rural America, Elkhorn Hot Springs needs a benefactor who could pour some money into the place without needing to worry about a return on investment.

The next day, after a morning soak in the hot springs, we headed north towards Crystal Park, a Forest Service area where visitors can dig for quartz (bring your own pick and shovel). Unfortunately, the Park was closed for a week of site improvements.

The meadow or “park” across from Crystal Park.

The mineral batholith stretches across the road and into the meadow. The Forest Service ranger told us we could dig there (usually off-limits), but we decided against it due to an onslaught of hungry mosquitoes.

Another view, just off the Byway.

Back in the car, we considered our options. Hike up to Coolidge, another ghost town, or aim for one of the high mountain lakes? We didn’t have many provisions, so we elected to continue on, eventually passing the Maurice family graveyard and the roaming cattle, and then landing in Wise River for a hearty lunch at the Wise River Club.

Skalkaho Falls, on the western side of the pass, heading towards the Bitterroot Valley.

Having come this far, we decided we would drive back to the Bitterroot via the Skalkaho Pass Road (Montana Highway 38), which travels through the Sapphire Mountains on a seasonal Forest Service road built upon a Native American trail.  After passing through more beautiful country, we spied the tall smokestack marking the former industrial town of Anaconda, and then detoured for tea and ice cream in Philipsburg, a small town known for its brewery, shops, and cool vibe.

I was nervous about the Skalkaho, since it is described as a “narrow winding road” on one of Montana’s “least travelled mountain roads,”  but I figured it couldn’t be any worse than the rough Forest Service roads we’d been taking to various hiking spots near Darby. Along the way, we stopped at the Gem Mountain Sapphire “Mine,” where visitors can buy buckets of gravel from a nearby mine and sift for sapphires (located just past mile marker 38 on the Skalkaho Pass Road, just before the paved road becomes gravel).

As it turned out, the Skalkaho was a breeze, especially since we were driving on the mountain side of the road, and not the edge. Also, because of some major spring washouts, the Forest Service had just finishing re-grading the road, making for smooth driving. Although the Skalhako isn’t exceptionally scenic, we enjoyed the ride up to the pass and through the forest, where anglers seek out certain fishing spots.  Not scary at all.

Skalkaho Road landed us just south of Hamilton, Montana.  Back in Darby, we finished off the road trip with a visit to Bandit Brewing Co., Montana’s smallest brewery, where beer is power.  Just ask the owner, a relative newcomer to town who recently become Darby’s mayor. We’d only been gone for 36 hours, but as we drank our beer, I realized that Darby was beginning to feel like home.  Fingers crossed, we’ll have another opportunity for a return visit and another 36-hour road trip.

Sources and resources

At the bottom of the post, see the hand-drawn map (on a Google map) covering our journey.

For more information on the Nez Perce, see the National Park Service website for the Big Hole National Battlefield.

See this Forest Service link for more detailed information on sights and stops along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway.

Find more information on Skalkaho Pass Road here.

This is my amateur and approximate map of our road trip, including detours to Bannack State Park and Philipsburg. We began and ended in Darby, Montana, south of Hamilton. Skalkaho Pass Road, parts of the Pioneer Mountains Byway, and the back road we took to Anaconda are all closed in winter, which starts early. Check locally on road status if you are traveling October through early June.

Posted in Family and Kids, Mountains, Travels | Tagged , | 6 Comments

The tragedy of the waitresses: A 1902 boating accident claims 14 lives at the Isles of Shoals

Fourteen people died in Kittery, Maine on July 17, 1902.  I came across a list of the dead by accident, while browsing through some old Town Reports. All who died were young, including three pairs of sisters. How had these young people died at the Isles of Shoals? And why had I never heard about this event in Kittery’s history?

I soon learned that all perished by drowning, victims of a capsized whaleboat 200 feet off the shore of Appledore Island. Most of the dead, 12 women and two men, served as waitstaff at the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island, thus the event is recalled as the “Tragedy of the Waitresses.”

At the turn of the 20th century, the Isles of Shoals remained a mecca for summer visitors.   The Oceanic Hotel and the Appledore House attracted college students, teachers, and others for the same reasons that young people today take on similar jobs: they offer a great opportunity to spend the summer earning money in a fun social place.

Sources differ in explaining the details of exactly what happened on that overcast July day.  Some, including the skipper, Fred Miles, said the boat was overcome by a squall that struck as the boat was pulling into the harbor, while others say the accident resulted more from bad luck than angry seas.

This sketch of the Ipswich whaleboat accompanied a news story in the July 20, 1902 edition of the Boston Daily Globe.

In his book,  The Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend, Lyman Rutledge provides an account based on interviews with shore witnesses. In this version, the whaleboat, loaded with its 16 passengers, set off for an afternoon excursion from the dock at Star Island under gray skies that suggested a brewing squall. After a short sail, the boat was returning to the harbor as the squall struck.

A witness interviewed by Rutledge says that the whaleboat was returning just as the afternoon steamer was completing its crossing from Portsmouth.  On the whaleboat, skipper Miles tacked to starboard to pull into Appledore Harbor. With the turn, the boat listed to its port side, and the young women on the boat crowded over to the starboard side, from where they could get a better view of the incoming boat.

But as the whaleboat passed into the lee of the steamer, the heavy wind was cut off.  As the sails went slack, the leaning boat shifted hard to starboard. With all the weight concentrated on the starboard side, water began to pour over the gunwales, overcoming the boat. Loaded with rock and iron ballast for stability, the whaleboat sank, stern first, within seconds. Most of the passengers drowned because the suction generated by the sinking boat pulled them under the water.

The capsize must have been a scene of utter chaos, as waves rocked and pulled at the other small boats trying to rescue the waitresses. Skipper Miles and two young women survived, but all the others were lost. As the harbor calmed, rescuers retrieved nine bodies, which were laid out on cots in the music room of the Appledore Hotel. A diver recovered the five remaining victims in the days that followed.

Kittery’s coroner, Edward E. Shapleigh, set out from Portsmouth at around 9:15 that evening to carry out the grim task of documenting the dead.

Most of the dead were young women, including sisters Mary and Ena Adams of Portsmouth, and Laura Gilmore, of Exeter. At the last minute, Ella Adams and  Hattie Gilmore, both sisters of victims, decided not to go. The Adams’s brother Oliver, rowing a dory, was the first to reach the victims (July 19, 1902 edition of the Boston Daily Globe).

The dead included two Harvard students who reportedly perished as they tried to hold up some of the young women. Nobody was wearing life jackets, which might have saved them, but even today, it’s unlikely that adult passengers on such an excursion would don life vests.

Fred Miles, the whaleboat skipper, was  devastated by the accident. He died of tuberculosis in 1911 at age 57.

News organizations from New York to San Francisco reported on the tragedy of the waitresses, with a mixture of facts, hearsay, and imagination. Coroner Shapleigh ruled the sinking an accident, and concluded that no further investigation was warranted, but that didn’t stop the media, families, and  community from casting blame.

Some blamed the captain for heading out when a storm was brewing. Others blamed the dockmen for regularly loading too many people in the whaleboat, although Skipper Miles claimed that the boat could hold many more passengers. Miles reportedly blamed the girls for not shifting in the boat, although the event happened so quickly, it’s unlikely that 16 people could have scrambled to the other side in time to prevent the capsize.

A fisherman and lifelong mariner, and the father of 13 children (two who died in infancy), Miles originally hailed from Nova Scotia, but had lived in Portsmouth for many years.

The headline from the July 19, 1902 edition of The New York Times. All victims eventually were recovered by divers.

The New York Times reported that when Miles was interviewed at his Hunking Street home the following day, he was “in a state bordering on prostration.” Newspapers around the country circulated the quote below was widely circulated newspapers around.

Skipper Miles, quoted in the New York Times. His explanation places more emphasis on the squall, compared to Rutledge’s account, in which bad luck (combined with the storm)  plays a larger role.

The Adams sisters are buried in Portsmouth’s South Cemetery. Mary, age 31, had worked for eight years as the order clerk at the Oceanic House, and was considered a valuable employee, along with younger sister Ena, age 22. They lived with their adult siblings in the family home on Marcy Street, their parents having died earlier. Their four brothers served as pallbearers at their funeral.

Her obituary describes Exeter’s Laura Gilmore, age 20 and a recent graduate of Robinson Seminary, as a “charming young woman”, and one of 12 siblings who were “peculiarly attached to one another,” with the older brothers and sisters working to save money to send the youngest one to college.

From the porch of the Appledore House, on Appledore Island, horrified visitors watched as the boat overturned and sank. The hotel, built to house 500 guests, closed a year later, and burned to the ground in 1914 (Library of Congress image).

I wonder how Fred Miles persevered after the tragedy. His wife gave birth to their 13th child that November, a baby girl died two years later. Miles developed tuberculosis and died in 1911, at age 57, leaving behind his wife Mary and 11 children.

This summer, I’ve been taking sailing lessons. As a novice, I am easily confused by the trifecta of sails, wind, and boat dynamics. I crash into the dock on almost every landing, have capsized the boat in a light breeze and no waves, and even managed to bust the tiller.  Although Skipper Miles was an experienced mariner, I now better understand how rapidly changing conditions could result in such an event. Sudden squalls happen out at the Shoals every summer, sometimes doing extensive damage to boats, docks and anything else on the water.

The day after the sinking, at the Oceanic House, “guests came from their rooms…in silence and seemed confused as they entered the dining-room where only a little handful of  waitresses with haggard faces were there to serve them,” writes Rutledge. “Out of the twenty-two, sixteen were absent, fourteen never to return.”

A Dr. Parks, interviewed by Rutledge, noted, “Had you been an ardent Shoaler at that time could you have forgotten it? Could you have attended a single session for the next fifty years without at least once during the week recalling that fearful tragedy?”

The Oceanic Hotel, where most of the accident victims worked, circa 1900 (Library of Congress photo). The Oceanic Hotel remains open today, serving as a conference center, but individual guests can also stay there on a space-available basis. Star Island is also a great destination for a day trip.

Sources and resources

Comments and additional information appreciated, especially in regards to the technical details of how or why the whaleboat capsized.

“Last chapter: All bodies of drowned on way home.” July 22, 1902, Boston Daily Globe.

“Terrible Drowning Accident: Fourteen Persons Go Down to Death Off the Isles of Shoals.”  July 18, 1902, Portsmouth Daily Chronicle (in vertical file at Portsmouth Aetheneum).

“Their last sad journeys: Bodies of the Isles of Shoals victims sent to sorrowing families” July 19, 1902, Boston Daily Globe.

“Tragedy of the Waitresses.” In The Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend, by Lyman V. Rutledge. Star Island Corporation, 1971.

For more information on staying at the Oceanic Hotel, visit the Star Island Corporation website. Today, Appledore Island is home to the Shoals Marine Laboratory, which offers a variety of visitor programs.

 

Posted in Seacoast (mostly) History | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Ten tips from 12 days of Spain

Bargain airfares, a favorable exchange rate, and a niece studying abroad pulled me to Spain this spring, my first trip to Europe in many years. Here’s my general spin on 12 days in Spain, with more detailed posts to follow.

#1: In Barcelona, you can never see too much Gaudí. But in Madrid, once you’ve seen 10 portraits of the slack-jawed 18th century monarch Charles III, you’ve seen enough.

Dragon sculpture, designed by Modernist architect Anton Gaudí, at Park Güell, originally planned as an early 20th century luxury home development, but now a much-loved public park in Barcelona.

#2: Remember the rooftops on hot Spanish evenings, especially in Madrid. Also, if you are staying in Madrid from June to September, spring for a hotel or AirBnB with a pool, to while away the hours of afternoon siesta when it is really too hot to be sightseeing (we didn’t and wish that we had done so).

A June sunset, from the 9th floor rooftop at El Cortes Ingles department store in Madrid, where we enjoyed Mexican food and margaritas. After sunset, browse the gourmet market, a great spot for picking up foodie gifts.

#3: Ditch the car and ride the rails. Taking a cue from Japan, Spain is building a network of high-speed rail that currently connects most major destinations, including Barcelona, Seville, and Malaga, to Madrid. If you are planning on multiple legs, buy a RENFE Spain pass. The so-called AVE train zips passengers from Madrid to Barcelona in three hours, and from Barcelona to Paris in five.

#4: If you rent a car, be prepared to drive a stick shift and don’t skimp on paying for the Garmin. I did skimp, and the $20 savings decreased my life span by at least a couple of months on an otherwise lovely day trip to the medieval village of La Alberca, about an hour’s drive from Salamanca. The village is easy to find, but getting in and out of Salamanca, even with a map, was challenging without a navigation aid.

The main plaza in the mountain village of La Alberca, a National Historic Site, with homes preserved in the medieval style. Note the crucifix dominating the square. The village is popular with local day trippers and with hikers seeking to exploring the surrounding Sierra de Francia trails.

#5: Spend at least a couple of nights in a lesser-known or off-the-beaten path destination. We spent four nights in Salamanca, where my niece was studying and which is home Europe’s first university, founded in the 12th century. Initially, I thought it might be a stretch to fill four days in Salamanca, but as it turned out, we could have spent more time there.  I loved the city’s lively Plaza Mayor and its cobbled medieval streets packed with history, cafés, and singing students. Who can’t love a town that boasts a public library housed in a 13th century building designed by Moorish architects?

My favorite elephant, a popular meet-up spot at Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, the largest in Spain.

#6: Throughout Spain, reduce your expectations of a foodie paradise. You will eat some very good food, but it’s also likely that you’ll eat meals that are just plain terrible.  Generally speaking, you’ll find the best food at small neighborhood restaurants (especially in Barcelona), and the worst at places that cater to tourists: rubbery calamari, lukewarm microwaved paella, and salads drenched in mayonnaise-based dressings.

Even TripAdvisor let me down with its #2 recommendation in Salamanca, the Cuzco Tapas Bar. It was okay, for a bite of solid if not memorable tapas, but the menu was limited and offered nothing unique. The fact that this pedestrian spot earned the #2 rating illustrates the challenge of find the places frequented by locals. While walking around the city, we stumbled upon the excellent El Laurel vegetarian restaurant, which was packed with locals at lunch, and couldn’t seat us. We returned later that evening for a lovely and reasonably-priced dinner, albeit not a very Spanish one (except for the wine).

#7: Speaking of wine,when in Spain, plan on drinking a lot of wine, sangria, and tinto de verana (a refreshing blend of seltzer and red wine). It’s Spain, and you have plenty of time for a siesta. Consider visiting a winery for a wine-tasting, such as those offered at Oller del Mas Cellar by Castlexperience in Barcelona. Just outside of Salamanca, we spent a lovely evening at the winery-hotel, Hacienda Zorita, where we enjoyed a wine tasting and farm-to-table dinner.

Enjoying a pre-dinner glass of wine on the grounds of Hacienda Zorita, near Salamanca.

#8: If  you have time for only one adventure in Madrid, do a food tour, such as those offered by Devour Madrid.  On our four-hour tour (mostly walking and standing until the last hour, when we sat down to a tapas meal), we enjoyed the best traditional tapas Spanish of our trip.

Our Devour Madrid tapas tour took us to the narrow streets of old Madrid, where each tapas bar has a signature dish, such as the garlic shrimp offered here along with a glass of sweet Spanish vermouth. We never would have found these places without a great deal of time and research.

#9: Live like a local: ride the Metro and city buses. Both Madrid and Barcelona have efficient, easy-to-navigate Metro systems, along with route-finding apps that work without wifi. But heed the warnings about pickpockets, especially on the Metro. A very polished, well-dressed lady carrying a large coat almost managed to snag my wallet.

In the summer, locals flock to Barcelona’s Plaça D’Espanya for the fountain show, street entertainment, and evening breezes.

 

#10: Plan ahead, but discover day-to-day.  In Barcelona, we loved the bike tour that we discovered. We planned ahead for the recommended hop-on hop-off bus, which was just okay (a lot of time on the bus). However, the bus helped us discover Òleum, the formal restaurant at the Catalan Art Museum on Mount Juic, and we returned for dinner with a view of the fountain show at Plaça D’Espanya.

The unexpected surprise of mountain goats wandering the around the 15th century monastery at the 5,682-foot summit of Peña del Francia, outside of La Alberca. Another surprise on the almost-deserted mountain: good coffee and drinks in a summit café.

Sources and resources

For more ideas on rooftop lounging, see “Madrid’s Best Rooftop Bars“.

For more information on La Alberca in the autonomous Castilla y Leon province, see the town website. The village is a popular weekend day trip for Spaniards and also for hikers who want to explore the many trails of the Sierra de Francia. On our visit, we drove to the summit of Peña de Francia to visit a 15th century monastery, now abandoned, although we did find a café in the understory of the modest conference center complex. The summit (pictured in the post header) is a destination for pilgrims. During the summer months, Mass is celebrated on a regular basis in the mountaintop church.

 

 

 

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Mount Roberts: The rich legacy of a bankrupt millionaire

Mount Roberts is located at the Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area, once the mountain estate of benevolent capitalist Thomas G. Plant.

Mount Roberts, located in Moultonborough, New Hampshire at the 5,300-acre Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area, was once the country estate of benevolent capitalist Thomas G. Plant.

Mount Roberts, a small peak with big views, is “such stuff as dreams are made on”:  one man’s dream, for building castles in the air.

Although he can’t claim credit for creating  the mountain itself, shoe magnate Thomas Gustave Plant paved the way for conservation of this land in the early 1900s when he began buying up old farms and lots in New Hampshire’s Ossipee Range for his Lucknow Estate, where he built his Arts & Crafts-style Castle in the Clouds in 1913-14.

But by the time Plant died at age 82 in 1941, he was bankrupt and broke, thanks to bad investments in Russian bonds and Cuban sugar, followed by the 1929 stock market crash. During the Depression, he tried to sell his mountain estate but found no one willing to buy the estate as one parcel. Plant lived with his wife Olive at the Castle until he died, just before creditors  auctioned off everything he owned.

After Plant’s death, the property passed through the hands of several stewards, until its 2002 purchase by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust.

Thomas G. Plant

Born in Bath, Maine, to a working-class family of French Canadian immigrants, Plant played baseball, cut ice, and worked in a shoe factory before starting his own shoe company, reportedly with money garnished in a baseball wager.  An “enlightened capitalist,” Plant sought both to make money and to enrich the lives of his workers. He claimed his Thomas G. Plant Shoe Factory in Roxbury, Massachusetts as the largest in the world. There, workers enjoyed a park and other amenities.  In 1917, he built The Plant Home, an assisted living home still operating today in Bath.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, as we began our hike to Mount Roberts, we passed the old stables, which continue to house horses and carriages today (available for riding in season).  Plant probably rode in his carriage on the old road that winds up the side of the mountain.

Our first views of Winnepesaukee, with more to come.

Our first views of Winnipesaukee, with more to come.

The 2.5 mile trail to the Mount Roberts summit soon reaches ledges with great views of Lake Winnipesaukee. The terrain looks rough for carriage rides, but then again, bumpy rides on carriage paths once were common in these parts.

On my visit to Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area, the small parking lot was full, and families with young children were cavorting in the meadow around the small pond.

But as we hiked to Mount Roberts, we mostly had the trail to ourselves.  At the summit, with its view of Mount Washington, we were the only hikers present.

On the summit of Mt. Roberts, we had great of Mt. Washington with its snow-covered summit.

At the Mt. Roberts summit, we had great views of Mt. Washington with its snow-covered summit.

I’m sure that from July through Columbus Day, Castle in the Clouds is a bustling place on weekends, filling up with weddings, bus tours, and people out enjoying the day. But 5,300+ acres offers lots of room to roam. My guess is that most visitors stick pretty close to the Castle.

Thomas G. Plant died broke and bankrupt, but he left a rich legacy, (albeit indirectly): an outdoor inheritance will never be exhausted, thanks to the stewardship of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust.

Sources and resources

Find more information about Thomas Gustave Plant at a family genealogical page.

The Jamaica Plan Historical Society offers more information about the Thomas G. Plante Shoe Factory fire, Boston, Massachusetts 1976.

Find links to a trail map and additional information at Lakes Region Conservation Trust Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area (but please support LRCT by buying one or better yet, join the trust).  The Conservation Area includes several great hikes; I look forward to a return visit to hike Mount Shaw. Parking available at trailheads on Route 171 and at the end of Ossipee Park Road in Moultonborough, New Hampshire.

Castle in the Clouds, along with the on-site restaurant, is open for touring from mid-May (usually for Mother’s Day) through mid-October.

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The Little Lodges that Could: Exploring Maine’s North Woods with AMC

I stepped outside the Library to watch the sunrise glow on snow-covered Long Pond. Not a soul or a sound deep in the North Woods of Maine.

Instead of the buzz of the snowmobiles that flock to these parts come winter, I hear my boots crunching on snow as I walk up the short hill to Gorman Chairback Lodge, to pour myself a cup of coffee. The cook is working on breakfast, but the comfortable couches around the wood stove are empty, everyone still snuggled in their beds in the cabins sprinkled on the property. The leather couches are inviting, but I take my coffee to go, for the cozy experience of reading in bed in the Library.

Inside The Library, an octogon-shaped cabin originally built by Civil War veteran X with his young son in 1867. The cabin, which sleeps four, has been renovated and rebuilt many times, but includes some original features. Propane lights provide a gentle source of light.

Inside The Library, an octogon-shaped cabin originally built by Civil War veteran W.P. Dean with his young son in the 1880s. The cabin, which sleeps four, has been renovated and rebuilt many times, but includes some original bones. No bath, or electricity, but propane gas mantle lamps provide a gentle source of light, and the fully equipped bath facility in the Lodge includes hot showers and a sauna.

This is my Florida, my Caribbean, even when the skies are gray and temperatures hover in the single digits. I’d long wanted to visit Gorman Chairback Lodge, a backcountry ski destination owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).  Scoring a stay in the Library was an added bonus.

The Library, which sits just steps away from Long Pond. Several of the rebuilt cabins at Gorman now have bathrooms, although the Library retains its 19th century rustic ambience (a walk up the hill to use the facilities).

The Library sits just steps away from Long Pond. Several of the cabins at Gorman now have bathrooms, although the Library retains its 19th century rustic ambience (a short walk to the lodge to use the facilities).

In the summer or fall, I could drive right up to Gorman, park my car, and settle in a for a week or several days of relaxing, kayaking and hiking, to Gulf Hagas, or along the Appalachian Trail, which follows Chairback Ridge not far from the lodge. And I’ll do that some day. But first, I wanted to ski in.

Setting off on a February morning to ski in to AMC's Little Lyford Lodge, the first stop on a three-day adventure.

On a February morning, we set off from the Winter Parking Lot on the Katahdin Iron Works Road (northeast of Greenville, Maine) to ski  on groomed backcountry trails into AMC’s Little Lyford Lodge, the first stop on a three-day adventure. During the winter, AMC provides snowmobile shuttle service for baggage. For an extra fee, AMC will also shuttle in passengers, making its lodges accessible to all ages and abilities.

After an 8-mile ski through the woods and then along the Pleasant River, we discovered Little Lyford Lodge in a snow-filled hollow that felt like a snug Swiss village. There, we recovered in the lodge, and baked in the sauna. That night, after a meal of hearty lasagna and conversation with other visitors, we slept soundly in our cabin.

Little Lyford Lodge is tucked into the land on First Little Lyford Pond, in the shadow of Indian Mountain. The bunkhouse, which housed three mothers and a pack of kids while we were visiting, is pictured in the foreground.

Little Lyford Lodge is tucked just above First Little Lyford Pond, in the shadow of Indian Mountain. In the foreground, the bunkhouse, which housed three mothers and a pack of kids while we were visiting.

Twenty years ago, when I hiked from Monson to Mount Katahdin on the 100-Mile Wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail, virtually all of the surrounding land (and much of the trail as well) was privately owned, mostly by paper companies.

AMC’s purchase of Little Lyford Lodge in 2003 was the first step in the organization’s “Maine Woods Initiative,” an ambitious project aimed at conserving land in the 100-mile Wilderness region, east of Moosehead Lake. Since the early 2000s, the organization, working in collaboration with others, has conserved almost 80,000 acres through a combination of direct ownership and conservation easements. Now, a corridor of preserved land extends all the way to Baxter State Park, and further east, thanks to recent designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

AMC also has developed an extensive network of trails that connect its three lodges along with a private lodge, West Branch Pond Camps, so that guests can ski or hike from lodge-to-lodge. The third lodge, Medawisla, currently is closed for renovation, but will reopen in summer 2017.

Little Lyford Lodge, where guests relax, and enjoy a full dinner and breakfast. The Lodge also provides a trail lunch to all guests. During our visit, temperatures were seasonable, but mild by mid-winter North Woods standards. Visitors wearing hats and mittens took full advantage of porch rocking chairs.

Little Lyford Lodge, where guests enjoy dinner and breakfast. The Lodge also provides a trail lunch to all guests. During our visit, temperatures were seasonable but mild by mid-winter  standards in these parts. Visitors wearing hats and mittens took full advantage of porch rocking chairs.

The organization’s initiative also has served to reinvigorate the tradition of the Maine sporting camp that once drew thousands of “sports” each year to the North Woods. Although you can still find 40 or traditional camps through the Maine Sporting Camp Association, many more have closed since their heyday in the first part of the 20th century, as the automobile and the airplane, along with busy work and family schedules, have changed the way people vacation.

With its huge membership base, the AMC has a ready pool of potential guests eager to get off the grid and away from the glow of the screen.  In the long run, I suspect that Maine’s many family-owned sporting camps will benefit from AMC’s marketing efforts, as a new generation discovers the North Woods.

We were snug in the Gray Ghost cabin, equipped with a wood stove and propane lights. Each cabin has its own outhouse, or visitors can use the fully-equipped central bathhouse, which includes a wood-fired sauna! Hence its nickname, the Spa.

At Little Lyford, we slept soundly in the Gray Ghost cabin, equipped with a wood stove and propane lights. Each cabin has its own outhouse, or visitors can use the central bathhouse, which includes a wood-fired sauna.  Hence its nickname, the Spa.

After our night at Little Lyford, we set out for Gorman Chairback Lodge, skiing on a “green” (easy) trail along the Pleasant River. We considered a side trip by snowshoe to Gulf Hagas, the largest gorge in Maine, but decided we best conserve our energy for the ski to Gorman. The skiing was irregularly groomed, but not difficult, and easily accomplished by anyone with some cross-country experience (or an enthusiastic novice).

After eight miles, we burst out of the woods at Gorman Chairback, just in time for a cup of fresh Carrabassett Coffee. The cook was busy preparing the evening’s dinner, an authentic chicken Cordon Bleu. Gorman is noted as the best of AMC for its cuisine and also offers beer and wine for sale.

Gorman Chairback Lodge, on the shores of Long Pond. In the summer and fall, you can drive to the Lodge, but winter access is by ski or snowshoe, or, for those who wish to, snowmobile taxi.

Gorman Chairback Lodge, on the shores of Long Pond, was extensively renovated several years ago and reopened in 2011. The lodge includes rustic and modern cabins as well as  bunkhouse accommodations.

After our night in the Library, and a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and blueberry muffins, we packed up our trail lunches and set off on a bluebird sky day. My only complaint was that our stay was too short.

We skied out on the trail across Long Pond, then into the woods for several miles until arriving back at the Winter Parking Lot.

We skied out on the trail across Long Pond, with Chairback Ridge in the background, then into the woods for several miles until arriving back at the Winter Parking Lot.

On the long drive home from Greenville, I did my usual plotting: this summer, a return to Little Lyford for the hike to Gulf Hagas? Next winter, a ski into Medawisla and a couple of nights at West Branch Pond? Not exactly “California Dreamin,'” but if I need to escape the cold, I know where to find the sauna.

Sources and resources

More information about AMC Lodges here.

You could spend a well-lived life visiting Maine’s many sporting camps listed at the Maine Sporting Camps Association.  I have especially fond memories of visits to Bulldog Camps, and look forward to checking out many others.

For information on the history and economic impact of AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative, see this Baseline Report written by economist David Vail (a former professor of mine!). Also, I’ll point out here that in the North Woods, thousands and thousands of acres remain in private ownership for logging, snowmobiling and other pursuits.  Economic activity and conservation are not incompatible and often work well in tandem.

For more information on another hut-to-hut ski adventure, see my post on Maine Huts and Trails:

Celebrating the new year in hut heaven: Champagne toasts at Maine Huts & Trails

The AMC also operates a system of hut-to-hut hiking in the White Mountains, although most are closed in the winter (with the exception of Lonesome Lake and Carter Notch Huts). Here, my post about a visit to Madison Hut:

Presidential aspirations: You can’t always get what you want

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Return visit to Orris Falls with Windows to the Wild

Click on the image to see the preview.

Click on the image to see the preview.

Early in January, 2017, I enjoyed a chilly morning to Orris Falls Conservation Area with Windows to the Wild host Willem Lange and producers Steve Giordani and Phil Vaughn. The resulting show, titled “The Maniacal Traveler” is scheduled for broadcast on New Hampshire Public Television on February 15, 2017 at 7:30, with repeat broadcasts on Sunday, 2/19. See the full schedule here. (Eventually NHPTV will archive the show here).

The show is based upon my earlier post, Travels on the White Rose Road to Orris Falls, a post that highlights the hiking within South Berwick’s Orris Falls Conservation Area, owned by the Great Works Regional Land Trust. Nineteenth-century writer Sarah Orne Jewett wrote a lovely piece about an afternoon ride on what she called the White Rose Road, including a visit to the lonely farmhouse of Daniel Littlefield.

We could feel a keen sense of Littlefield’s isolation on the January morning of the filming. Although I was verging on hypothermia by the session’s end (due to misplaced optimism about the temperatures), it was great fun to spend the morning with Willem (80+ years old) and producers Steve and Phil.  Crafting a 26-minute show, it turns out, isn’t so different from crafting a blog post, except that the on-site process takes longer (and probably the editing as well). It’s all about stitching words and images together to tell a story.

I recently wrote another post, Searching for the lost village of Punkintown, about another wonderful patch of land in Eliot that Great Works helped to conserve in the 1990s. For more on hikes in the Seacoast region of Maine and New Hampshire, see the tab, “Hiking: 4k and more,” at the top of the page.

 

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Celebrating the new year in hut heaven: Champagne toasts at Maine Huts & Trails

We set off for Poplar Stream Hut on a perfect December afternoon.

We set off for Poplar Hut on a perfect winter afternoon.

At Poplar Hut, nestled on a hill in Maine’s Carrabassett Valley, the staff sets out the champagne glasses at 9:30 p.m.  By 10 p.m., most guests will be fast asleep in their bunks, worn out by an afternoon of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or hiking into the hut.

But the party continues for those dedicated to the stroke of midnight. They sip on beer, wine or softer beverages, while pursuing wild games of Bananagrams and Settlers of Catan.  Completing jigsaw puzzle becomes a communal activity, and then everyone settles into the comfy couches by the fireplace or in the upstairs reading room, waiting for the clock to strike midnight.

The countdown begins. At midnight, instead of watching the ball drop in Times Square, we cheer as a crew member ceremoniously lowers an old ball of a wasp nest tied to the ceiling.

This is my first overnight visit to Maine Huts & Trails, and I’m wondering what took me so long.

Two feet of fresh snow made for nice soft cross-country ski conditions, with no scary ice to contend with when skiing downhill.

Two feet of fresh snow made for nice soft cross-country ski conditions, with no scary ice to contend with when skiing downhill. Shown here is the junction at the Narrow Gauge Trail (a popular rail trail, to the left) where it intersects with the Maine Hut Trail to Stratton Brook Hut. The trail climbs about 1,000 feet in 4.7 miles from the Airport Trailhead, making for a good workout. A shorter 3.1 trail with less elevation gain departs from the Stratton Brook/Route 27 trailhead.

Maine Huts & Trails operates four “huts”  — really more like backcountry lodges  — in western Maine which people can visit by foot, ski, bike, or snowshoe.  Poplar Hut opened in 2008, followed by Flagstaff Hut on Flagstaff Lake (2009), Grand Falls Hut on the Dead River (2010), and, in 2012, Stratton Brook Hut, located on a knoll with views of the Bigelow Range and Sugarloaf Mountain.  The non-profit organization eventually hopes to build a dozen huts stretching across Maine’s woods up to the Moosehead Lake area.  Theoretically, skiers, hikers, and bikers can travel from hut to hut, which some do, while others visit for a night or two.  In the winter, the huts also make a great lunch destination for a cross-country ski or snowshoeing day trip.

Previously, I had visited cozy Flagstaff Hut for lunch on a summer boat excursion with Jeff Hinman of Flagstaff Lake Scenic Boat Cruises. But I’d been under the mistaken impression that an overnight hut trip in winter was too much for kids to handle, and thus had put off a winter visit for several years.

When we finally set out on our cross-country skis, we traveled under near-perfect circumstances: two feet of snow had dropped on the Valley that week, making for soft if imperfectly groomed skiing trails (with post-dump grooming still in process). The temperature, by winter standards, was mild, around 30 degrees. The three-mile ski up to Poplar (gaining 500 feet of elevation) was definitely challenging, but we had all afternoon to get there, and the prospect of a bunk nap before dinner.

Dinner was a slow-cooked roast beef and assorted side dishes, along with a delicious roasted veggie-lentil loaf for vegan/vegetarians (Note: backcountry huts of all kinds always make amazing vegetarian meals; you can count on at least one crew member being a serious vegetarian cook). The  chef had piled the champagne cupcakes with way too much frosting and I ate every bit of it (knowing I would need the energy for the next day).

New Year's cheer at Stratton Brook Hut (I got so caught up in my puzzle-building that forgot to take pictures while staying at Poplar).

New Year’s cheer at Stratton Brook Hut (I got so caught up in my puzzle-building at Poplar that I forgot to take pictures there). Behind the fire place are several cozy chairs and a couch.

At Poplar Hut, as I talked to folks gathered around the tables, I was struck by the variety of guests there: the creaky and the lithe, the young, old, and middle-aged, and both novice and experienced backcountry travelers. Because the huts offer many choices and routes, they make backcountry experiences accessible to all kinds of people.  Yes, you do have to work a bit to get here, but most of the huts aren’t that far from roads, even though they feel remote. We skied into Poplar on the 3-mile Maine Hut Trail, but could have snowshoed the same route, or on a shorter, 1-mile(-ish) trail from another trailhead. Visitors do need to bring a sleeping bag, but you can have your gear shuttled from hut to hut, as we did on Day 2 and 3 of our visit.

On New Year’s Day, we enjoyed a breakfast of buckwheat pancakes, eggs, and bacon and good coffee before setting out for Stratton Brook Hut, about seven miles away. Because of  the heavy snow, we ended backtracking on the Maine Trail Hut to the Narrow Gauge Trail, where we eventually headed up another Maine Hut Trail to Stratton Brook Hut. Other trails follow different routes, but would have been difficult to navigate in 24 inches of unbroken snow.

We arrived at Stratton Brook Hut around 2 p.m. I was ready to move in.  Stratton Brook is built on a little piece of heaven situated between Sugarloaf Mountain and the Bigelow Range. Great views abound. (I definitely want to look into the volunteer caretaker program when I am retired).

Hut view

View of the Bigelow Range from inside Stratton Brook Hut.

That night, the crew cooked up a feast of balsamic chicken, plus the requisite dessert: a berry cobbler that tasted summer fresh.

Sunrise at Stratton Brook Hut.

Sunrise at Stratton Brook Hut.

At Stratton Brook, we had our own little bunk room and slept well, rising in time  to get out for views of the winter sunrise.

For breakfast, we enjoyed more pancakes and eggs and conversation with a group from New Brunswick, Canada.  The night before, we had embarked on another puzzle project and could not leave without finishing. But we were in no hurry — the sled took our gear, we enjoyed our coffee and puzzle-building, and then geared up for the ski downhill to the Airport Trailhead.

View of the Bigelow Range from the trail that leads to Stratton Brook Hut.

One last view of the Bigelow Range before skiing down the trail. Like many, I am not a confident cross-country skier on descents, but found the 1000-foot gradual descent manageable with my ski-pole-between-the-legs braking technique. If conditions were icy, we probably would have chosen snowshoes.

So, now I’m a member of Maine Huts, and already making my plans for next year. Or maybe sooner!

Sources and resources

For a family, staying at Maine Huts & Trails is a splurge, as the per-person price adds up. However, I consider the huts a good value: the $130 weekend/holiday rate per night includes three meals, with a 50% discount for kids ($65, including teens).  One day of ski tickets at nearby Sugarloaf Mountain, with no meals or lodging, would cost about the same for our family of three. I don’t mean to pit one experience against the other, just to show that the huts are reasonably priced for the experience they offer. Sunday-to-Thursday rates are about 30% less, and members get a 10% discount, plus a variety of other discounts, including some steep “flash-sale” discounts.

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Searching for the lost village of Punkintown

In the 1920s, unmarried sisters Mary and Almira Payne reportedly were the last residents of Eliot’s Punkintown, a small community of 10 or so families who once lived near the outlet of York Pond. One town history relates Mary had no legs below her knees and travelled by walking “like a toad.”

Today, the remnants of Punkintown (also spelled as Punkin Town) lie deep within 500 acres of conserved forest land between Route 236 in Eliot and Route 91 in York.   Punkintown Road, now a trail,  still connects these two routes.  Exploring this trail and others that lace through these woods,  I wonder how often Mary walked on Punkintown Road to York or South Berwick.  She never married, but had five children. Did she have a common-law marriage? What became of her children? And what happened to the home where she lived? Mary died in 1927 and Almira in 1936.  One account reports that both are buried in the woods near the site of their home.

On my adventures in Punkintown, I have not found that site, or other cellar holes and foundations that once supported homes, but the woods are full of historical clues, like small quarry ponds, cemeteries, and old stone walls.

Punkintown wasn’t truly a town, but might have been a world unto itself, especially once snow piled up on the narrow road. Today, hikers and mountain bikers can get a feel for that isolation when exploring the trails that loop around this forest full of wonders like witch hazel and sassafras trees, and views of Bartlett Mills and York Ponds.

This hand-drawn map shows the direct route to P-town. Explorers will definitely want to walk or ride the loop the goes to Bartlett Mill Pond and past the Plaisted Cemetery.

This hand-drawn map shows the direct route to Punkintown. Explorers will definitely want to walk or ride the trail that loops by the shore of Bartlett Mills Pond and past the Plaisted cemetery. Post a comment if you would like me to share a more specific description of the northerly, more complicated loop (yellow line).

One history of Eliot suggests that the area was settled by Major Charles Frost, who set up a grist mill in the York Pond area in the 1770s. Today, the outlet from York Pond meanders down a channel reinforced with stone walls that look like someone built them 200 years ago, or yesterday. The grist mill may have the reason a few families settled here in the early 1800s.

But was Punkintown as isolated and hardscrabble as these deep woods suggest today? Near the shore of Bartlett Mills Pond, the Plaisted cemetery includes a family monument, a sign that the family was fairly well off, at least by 19th century rural Maine standards.

The Plaisted family cemetery, near Bartlett Mills Pond. Patriarch Ebenezer Plaisted, the patr

The Plaisted family cemetery, near Bartlett Mills Pond. Patriarch Ebenezer Plaisted, born in 1793, lived a long life, dying at age 88 in 1881. The Plaisteds married into the Emery and Payne families, all of whose local histories date to the 17th century.

Also, a photo of the Plaisted family house, labeled as built before 1800, looks sizable and quite respectable.  This house reportedly burned down in 1916, but thus far, I have not located a foundation cellar hole (it’s possible that it was filled in, or swallowed up by the newer homes on the private land beyond the York Pond outlet stream).

Ebenezer Plaisted House

This photo, which I found online, was published in Margaret A. Elliot’s book ” Eliot”, published in 2005 by Arcadia Publishing for the Eliot Historical Society.

The Plaisted family settled in southern York County in the 17th century. Roger Plaisted, a likely ancestor to Ebenezer, was killed by Indians in South Berwick in October of 1675, along with his son, Roger. So Ebenezer was likely well-established in the area, with many relatives and community ties.

No one knows for sure how the community came by the name, Punkintown. Some say it was because the people here raised and sold lots of pumpkins.

People lived in Punkintown from the early 1800s until Mary and Almira passed away, with one history suggested that the community died out after a tuberculosis epidemic in the 1920s. However, I question that assertion, since tuberculosis was as common as mud before antibiotics and didn’t “wipe out” towns in a year or two, as infected people tended to succumb slowly, over many years).  Edward Vetter’s account tells us that locals recall that an eccentric woman named Emma Payne who may have lived in Punkintown as late as the 1960s. Emma reportedly came to town occasionally to sell vegetables, some of which may have been pilfered from other gardens or farms along the route.

The trail to Punkintown begins on Punkintown Road,  by the Brixham Dance Works on Route 236 (across from Marshwood High School). Visitors should park at the top of the hill, off to the right in a small space that holds two or three cars. Here there is a confusing three-way intersection. Walkers or mountain bikers should turn head to the right and up a small hill.

Park at the top of the hill crass from this somewhat confusing sing. , which

Park at the top of the hill directly across from this somewhat confusing sign, which designates house numbers on the road and has nothing to do with the trail.

After ascending the first part of the hill, you will reach an intersection. Here, the old Punkintown Road — and the most direct route to the York Pond area — continues straight up the hill.

The right fork (somewhat straight ahead) takes hikers on the old Punkintown Road. The left fork takes visitors to Rocky Hills and a variety of other trails, including a loop back to Punkintown Road. However, you need an adventurous spirit to explore in here, as trails are not marked (although it is hard to get truly deeply lost). Upon request, I will post more specific directions to this route, which includes a stop at small quarry pond.

After climbing up to and then along a ridge, the trail descends gently towards the headwaters of York Pond, where an outlet flows towards Bartlett Mill Pond.

Bridge over the outlet from York Pond. Note the beautiful stone work, which lines this stream and may date to the early 19th century. Here, Punkintown Road continues on private land posted against trespassing. Several houses are visible, and the road links up with Route 91 in York.

Exploring further, a side trail on the north side of the road leads to the shore of beautiful York Pond, a hidden gem in the forest. Behind the pond, the glacial drumlin, Swazey’s Hill, rises above the pond.  You can circle the hill on a flat trail, or climb up and over it on a trail that eventually lands back on Punkintown Road, where you would turn right to head back.  At one intersection, a small white arrow directs you to stay right. Pretty easy.

December view of York Pond.

December view of York Pond.

But there’s so much more to explore.  To find the Plaisted cemetery, you take another trail on the south side of Punkintown Road. The trail intersects the road in two places (see map above). If you are facing the York Pond outlet stream (looking toward the private land), the trail is to your right.  After about 50 yards of walking, you will find the cemetery and Bartlett Mill Pond.  If you continue along the woods trail that runs near the pond shore, it will wind back to Punkintown Road, which is basically the spine for these trails and others in the forest.

We turned off the main PUnkin town road to the a side trial dtoarards BArlemt mill, and e

The single-track trail along the shore of Bartlett Mill Pond, headings towards the Plaisted cemetery.

This beautiful swath of forest features many other trails to explore on foot or mountain bike, all of them suitable for what I call intermediate middle-aged lady mountain biking (woods roads, some single track, and some mud, with a few logs that I walk my bike over).

I’ve lived in the Seacoast region for over 20 years and until this fall, when I first visited Punkintown on a Great Works Land Trust walk, I didn’t even know that this patch of protected land existed. On my explorations since then, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll definitely come back again for more adventures in Punkintown.

Bartlett Mills Pond.

Bartlett Mill Pond.

Sources and resources

I welcome any corrections or additions to this piece.

The Great Works Land Trust has been working with other entities for 20 years to conserve the land in this area.  Today, this 500-acre forest includes parcels owned by conserved by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy, and the Town of Eliot.

Much of the information about Punkintown comes from Edward Vetter’s A Pictorial Tour of Eliot: Historical Markers, Plaques and Landmarks in Eliot, Maine, edited by Esther Morrow. Vetter’s account is based the memories of Frank Parsons, who relayed his memories of Punkintown in 1987, when he was 87.

Margaret A. Elliot’s Eliot, published in 2005 for the Eliot Historical Society, also includes some information on Punkintown.

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A September walk in the woods: Mount Cabot to Unknown Pond

Mount Cabot or the Carters? As I drove up Pinkham Notch early on a lovely September Saturday, the many cars spilling from every parking lot cinched my decision: on to Mount Cabot.  I would escape the crowds on this gorgeous day, but also have some company on the lightly traveled Kilkenny Ridge–a good thing, as I was hiking solo.

As it turns out, while Mount Cabot is off the beaten path, it isn’t all that remote. Just outside of Berlin, New Hampshire, the York Pond-Bunnell Notch and Unknown Pond trails begin at the state fish hatchery on York Pond Road. When I arrived, I found about ten cars at the trailhead—enough hikers, but not too many.

Having come this far, I was aiming to complete the 11.5 mile loop up through Bunnell Notch to Mount Cabot and then over Kilkenny Ridge to Unknown Pond. However, feet problems have limited my hiking, so the 9.2 out-and-back to the Cabot peak was also an option.

My recommendation:  if you get yourself up to Mount Cabot, do the entire loop. The hiking is fairly easy, by White Mountains standards, beginning with the first mile of overgrown logging road and including lots of easy pine-needle walking on Kilkenny Ridge. The trek includes 3,00o feet of elevation gain, so it’s not a walk, but covering the miles with breaks at the Mount Cabot cabin, the Horn, and Unknown Pond makes for a great day in the woods.

First views come at Bunnell Rock, just off the Kilkenny Ridge trail. Skies were hazy, but I thought I could see Franconia Ridge in front of Mount Washington — an intriguing perspective that I hadn’t seen before (and later confirmed was correct).

The Mount Cabot cabin, about four miles in, was my first rest stop, where I enjoyed lunch on the porch. I had contemplated making this hike an overnight family trip, with a late start and sunset at the cabin, and had heard many opinions about the cabin, some declaring it a horrible, filthy hovel, and others finding it tolerable.

The old fire warden's cabin has sleeping platforms with 8 spots. It's definitely not fancy. The fire tower was dismantled in the mid-1960s, and it's a small miracle that the cabin still exists. Winter hikers take note: The Forest Service has removed the wood stove.

The old fire warden’s cabin has sleeping platforms with 8 spots. It’s definitely not fancy. The fire tower was dismantled in the mid-1960s, and it’s a small miracle that the cabin still exists. Winter hikers take note: The Forest Service has removed the wood stove.

My verdict: I would sleep in the cabin (although I wish the Boy Scout maintainers would rip up the padding on the sleeping platforms, as those pads tend to collect the mouse droppings for which the cabin is noted). However, I’m not sure that sleeping there would be noteworthy or interesting, unless doing so was part of a longer backpacking trip. The view is limited, through the trees, and  I’m glad I wasn’t hauling a full pack for 11.5 miles. I’ve read that a spring flows near the cabin, but didn’t look around for it; the cabin also has a rain barrel that contained a small puddle of water. (Bunnell Brook is also a potential water source if you can stock up before reaching the cabin).

Two gray jays at the clearing where the fire tower used to stand.

Gray jay in the fir trees just below the Mt. Cabot summit.

Finishing up lunch around 1 p.m., I decided to go for the entire loop. I was planning to power through the fire tower clearing after a short look at the hazy views, but I had to linger and visit with a couple of gray jays. They weren’t quite as bold as the jays on Mount Waumbek, who will eat out of your hand, but they were happy to steal a few bits of my granola bar.

And on to the summit, a half-mile from the cabin. The wooded Mount Cabot peak is peaceful but anticlimactic, and I pushed on. The trail descended, then climbed uphill, and before I knew it, I was at the junction for the side trail (.3 mile) to the Horn. I had already hiked over the Bulge without feeling the pain.

I scrambled up to the Horn and its 360-views. Confronting the large glacial erratic that caps off the Horn, at first I wondered if I could get up there. Exploring its perimeter, I found that the south-facing side works for a short person, and I pulled myself up via a large crack.

IMG_5542

The haze had cleared and I had great views from the Horn, including this south-facing view, with Mount Washington in the distance.

The friendly crack (from perspective above) that gave me leverage to pull myself up and scramble down the Horn.

The friendly crack (from perspective above) that gave me leverage to pull myself up and scramble down the Horn.

After my snack and rest on the Horn, I was off to Unknown Pond, where lots of vegetation restoration is underway. The Forest Service wants hikers to stay away from the shoreline (which of course is the best spot to hang out when visiting a pond). I rested briefly at a designated spot  to enjoy the view, and then checked out the campsites, just above the pond (a 2-minute walk). The campsites were empty on this full-moon Saturday (and I didn’t see a single person on the Unknown Pond trail, although I had met hikers on the Kilkenny Ridge).

View of the Horn from Unknown Pond (photo by John Compton of 1HappyHiker.com).

View of the Horn from Unknown Pond (photo by John Compton of 1HappyHiker.com).

I expected my last leg, a 3.3 mile walk on the Unknown Pond trail, to go quickly, but it was a trail, not a logging road, with lots of small rocks and a couple of stream crossings. Not difficult, just not a jogging path. But I made good time to the parking lot, where my lonely car was the only one waiting for its owner.

Although I’m happy that I finally checked Mount Cabot off my 4000-footer list, I’m even happier that I discovered this area north of the Notches. From the Horn, the Percy Peaks (featured image on header) called to me. Camping at Unknown Pond would be a great overnight on a northerly hike along the Cohos Trail. The deluxe shelter on Sugarloaf Arm sounds like a palace. Next September, when the Notch trails are packed with hikers, I’ll continue heading north.

Good-bye, Mount Cabot! I'll be back another time to explore on the Cohos Trail.

Good-bye, Mount Cabot! I’ll be back another time for more exploring on the Cohos Trail.

Notes and resources:

The York Pond-Bunnell Notch and Unknown Pond trailheads that complete the Mount Cabot loop are located at the end of York Pond Road off NH 110, just north of Berlin, NH. (Note that the northern end of the Unknown Pond Trail is located off Mill Brook Road , also off Route 110, in Stark, NH. You can’t do a loop hike from the northern end).

The gate closure sign at the New Hampshire State Fish Hatchery scares people off from doing the loop. I called the Fish Hatchery and learned that the gate is only pinned at 4 p.m., and not locked until 10 p.m. As it turns out, the gate wasn’t closed when I drove out around 5:45 p.m. However, to avoid an accidental car stranding, I recommend calling at 603-449-3412 to confirm that the policy remains the same.

If you want to explore far from the madding crowds, the Cohos Trail is a 165-mile trail that begins in the Crawford Notch area and ends at the Canadian border.

Read more of my 4000-footer posts here, including the trip to nearby Mount Waumbek.

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