What it is

South Central New England has quite a few places for some interesting hikes. We'll be focusing on major destinations: Mt. Monadnock and Mt. Wachusett, but won't hesitate at all to go off on some little trail with no name and no following or off to a far-away route (or maybe something only vaguely related to hiking). These are almost always going to be day hikes, but you never know just what we'll be seeing!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dancing on the mountain

Last Sunday Dianne Eno and Fusion Danceworks performed their 25th Anniversary Celebration of Dance on the summit of Mount Monadnock.  The preceding week was miserable--rain, fog, damp, clouds, dark. The dance was postponed from Saturday because of the threat of rain.

As we drove to the mountain, we saw that the summit was covered by clouds.  Rain wasn't in the forecast, though, so we weren't too worried about it.  We parked at the headquarters and fought our way through the black flies along the White Dot trail almost to tree line.  With my extra camera gear and both a mid-weight jacket and a rain jacket, I was definitely slow on the uphill sections (which, of course, is virtually the whole trail). The two boys left the two adults in the dust--er, mist. We had some nice views over the countryside, just about until we got to the treeline which is where the cloud cover was hovering.

At the top, the performance had just gotten underway maybe 10 minutes earlier.  We expected to be much later, as we didn't get on the road anywhere close to the time we planned, and the hike went a little slower too, but there had been some technical issues with the sound equipment and the attempts to fix it meant we missed less than we otherwise would have.  In the end, the sound system was inoperable, so virtually only the dancers and the sound man got to hear much.

It was pretty cool on the top, and I was definitely glad I brought the jacket. The hike up was hot and sweaty, but on top there was a cool breeze, temperatures probably in the 50's. It would have been very uncomfortable to stay any length of time without the jacket.

The dancing was marvelous as always!  Magical, in a way, as on this occasion the dances were taking place in fog.  And not just your run-of-the-mill fog!  The fog was blowing in and out so that one moment everything around the dancers was nice and clear, and the next you could barely see them.  Literally, the visibility was less than 200 feet (60 meters) at times. The clearest that it got probably was less than 1/4 mile (400 m).

I managed to get some photos and a few videos. The contrast was at times almost non-existent--a middle-gray scene surrounded by zones 4 and 5 1/2. The brightness level changed only slightly with the fog blowing in and out, from gray to murky.  In the end when developing the photos, I wasn't sure how bright I wanted to make things. Should I leave things how it really felt--dark, dreary--or make the sky lighter and let more color through? For most shots, I opted for the lighter optimization. The videos were short--I had to take still photos, after all--and the wind noise occasionally gets in the way. But not too bad nonetheless.

Going down the mountain, the two boys again were way ahead of us adults. I kept the jacket on the whole way down, but probably should have taken it off. We followed the White Cross trail down the mountain. It was quite wet and muddy in spots (as was the White Dot trail on the way up). We adults definitely felt the exercise and were getting pretty beat well before we reached the bottom. Of course, the college boy who had been on the crew team was ready to go up again as soon as we reached the bottom. (When I was a couple of years younger than he, I had camped for a week at the mountain and typically did two hikes up and down a day. One day, we did it three times.  We snickered a little at the fellow near the start of the trail who told us we'd never be able to get to the top at the pace we had set!)

Tired and sticky, we made it back to the car and were ready to head home--after a stop at Kimball Farm just outside Jaffrey.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wachusett Meadow Audubon Society Reservation--Brown Hill Loop

The weekend was turning out a bit better than predicted--the rains were going to hold off until Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday afternoon, so we went out on Saturday. One of us did not want to goto Mt. Wachusett, so we decided to head for another nearby location with hills, Wachusett Meadow, a property held by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. 

We have a membership, so we just signed in and checked the map fo rthe route we wanted to take, and off we went.  On the way in, we noted that the Meadow was holding a "Bird and Breakfast" event, so I was concerned that it would be very crowded, but this was already afternoon, so it wasn't too bad.  We had barely gotten started though, when we ran into old friends who had stopped to look for a yellow warbler that they had heard.We spent a few minutes in conversation, then we went our separate ways.

The Brown Hill Loop is reached at the upper reaches of a meadow. We considered starting up the Birch Trail to cut off some of the hike, but after going along it for a short distance we were unsure that it was going where we wanted. A quick look at the map revealed our problem: We had grabbed a Mt. Wachusett map by mistake and couldn't confirm how the Birch Trail went.  So we backtracked a hundred yards or so to take the more certain route.

The day was mostly cloudy, but not too dark. The leaves were still coming out on the trees, so the canopy was thin and the leaves themselves were a light green. This gave the hike thorugh the woods a lighter feeling than we would have in the middle of summer. The black flies, unfortunately, were getting to be quite annoying.

The trail undulates up and down, left and right as it slowly makes its way around Brown Hill. While we did pass a few small groups of fellow hikers, it was generally pretty quiet. Quiet enough that I kept reminding my fellow hikers to keep the noise down.  That advice paid off--suddenly, a deer burst out from very close in front of us! It ran into the woods to our left not too far away so we could still make it out.  Frances and Gary stopped to get photos while I continued on. The trail swung a bit to the left, bringing me closer to the deer, who was now watching me intently.
Deer along the Brown Hill Loop trail at Wachusett Meadow. (Click to enlarge.)

The deer watched as my route turned back to the right and went away from it. Then Frances and Gary started to follow the trail, and the deer became nervous, bounding off farther into the woods. It was then that I saw the second deer, ahead of the one we initially spotted. By watching carefully, we could see the two of them making their way more slowly through the woods and up the hill.  While we thought we'd get to see them later, it turned out that we didn't.

We passed the eastern junction of the trail up to the Brown Hill Summit and enjoyed the walk around it, until we got to the western junction of the summit trail. Here, we waited as a group we had passed earlier came down from the summit, and headed up, ourselves.

Right around now, Gary found a collection of dog ticks on his socks.  Frances quickly picked them off and threw them away from the trail while Gary barely was able to keep from panicking--or pretending to nearly panick as a pre-teen can do.

After a quick look around from the top of Brown Hill, where the black flies were least bothersome, we turned back the way we can, went by the Glacial Boulder, and finally through the meadow. Gary managed to pick up one more tick along the way. We gave each other a tick check, then headed home. (We managed to find one more tick, on Frances, after we got home. It had found itself a comfortable spot and was starting to attach itself, but hadn't quite gotten there yet.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mt. Monadnock--Dancers

This weekend we decided to take the Sidefoot Trail from the Halfway House. It had been a couple of years since I last followed that route and there were a few things that were immediately apparent: The trail itself has been cleared somewhat. A few trees that had been along the trail were obviously cut, as we could see their stumps still in the trail. The blazes were relatively freshly painted, bright, clean white. And the trail seemed to have experienced extensive erosion in several places.  I didn't think we had had rains much heavier than anything we'd seen in other years, but perhaps the rains hit at just the right time to do the most damage. 

Despite the erosion, the trail was quite climbable and remains a good alternative to the White Arrow Trail. We could hear people along the White Arrow, although even with the decidious foliage barely starting to come out we never postively saw anyone. I thought I spotted a quick glimpse of movement at one point, but it was gone too quickly to be sure.

We had a rare encounter with a group of a dozen people traversing the Amphitheater Trail as we reached the top of the Sidefoot Trail.  While they graciously offered to let us pass, we were actually planning a break just before joining the White Arrow Trail, so we declined.

Sunday was a mostly cloudy day by the time we got to the mountain. At the top of the Sidefoot Trail, we could see a shower developing under the clouds well south of us and west of Mt. Wachusett. Frances asked how I knew it was rain rather than just a shadow from the cloud and I explained that looking through rain means that objects behind the rain become much less distinct than would be the case with a shadow. I took a couple of photos while we caught our breath and then we were back on the trail.

We took an obscure, unmapped route from the White Arrow Trail across to the White Dot Trail. Surprisingly this route was also recently maintained, and I was happy to see that a tree I frequently bumped my head on had been cut down. At the White Dot Trail, we turned and finished the climb to the summit.

As we approached the summit, we saw that Dianne Eno's Fusion Danceworks group was rehearsing for their May 21 performance. Monadnock legend Larry Davis was watching the rehearsal as we reached them. Our time to get here: One hour and thirty-five minutes. The lack of conditioning was definitely showing--last time I did this route it took about 1:20. And a few years back it was 0:50. Ok, so maybe it's age as much as conditioning!

We watched the dancers, took a couple of hundred photos (click the photos in this article to enlarge them), had lunch, visited the summit marker to look around.  The weather was holding, fortunately, Everyone was watching the shower to the south. It had grown considerably heavier and maybe a little larger, but really hadn't moved very much so we didn't think it was a threat. We did have some very light sprinkles on the mountain, but they were barely noticeable. There didn't appear to be any other showers close enough to be a concern. Below us, the landscape was dappled with sun and shadow from the breaks in the clouds.

Photographing the dancers was a challenge.  The clouds were very interesting, occasionally dark and threatening, sometimes breaking with a little blue between. But to get the clouds meant underexposing the dancers. To get the dancers meant overexposing and wiping out the clouds. A graduated filter wasn't the best answer as the dancers frequently were high in the sky on the various elevations of the rock. The other issue was that the clouds were dark and no sun ever hit the dancers while I was taking the photos. The exposures were a bit long, which meant that the dancers' motions sometimes just blurred into oblivion against the brighter sky. And, of course, overcast means low contrast and dull colors. Watch this space to see if I was able to get useful results.

The hike down the mountain was uneventful. Again, maybe a sprinkle or two, but I probably shouldn't even mention them. For me, the most notable part was the burning of the souls of my feet. I had adjusted my new boots so that I wasn't slipping inside as we hiked down, but I may need to make them a bit tighter or add a second pair of socks to reduce the friction.  We'll see what works, as I expect to be back to Monadnock next weekend, as well.

Happy hiking! And visit Hiking Trails on Mt. Monadnock.