Monday, June 10, 2013

Monadnock Sunapee Greenway in a Day - 6/9/2013

The Monadnock Sunapee Greenway is a 48 mile long hiking trail that winds its way over a string of mountains and hills in western New Hampshire on technical singletrack, old woods roads, over open ledges and through overgrown fields. Along the way it passes several backpacking shelters, many ponds and streams, numerous old stone walls and foundations, and the squares of bucolic little towns like Nelson and Washington that have yet to suffer the developmental vulgarities of so many other places.

While popular for short day hikes and long-weekend backpacking trips, the Greenway is also an appealing trail to run in a day. The summit-to-summit layout makes it possible to see the entire route stretching out to the horizon and you can watch your destination on Mount Monadnock grow closer at every view point. There are several places to cache water and supplies along the route and the trail is well-marked and easy to follow.

While preparing one such water cache, I suffered a short delay.

After some tense negotiations, safe passage was granted.

I've wanted to run the Greenway from end to end in a day for a couple years now, but health, weather, and races always conspired to make me save it for another day. Well, that day finally came last Sunday when I departed from the ski lodge deck on the summit of Mount Sunapee at six in the morning. Unfortunately, it was rather foggy and damp, making for a wet trail to start and precluding any view toward Mount Monadnock.

The Sunapee ridge is one of my favorite sections of trail to run anywhere. It has a very secluded feel and the exposed ribs of bedrock are great fun to hop across.

A little less fun was how soggy everything was after several days of rain. It was useless to try keeping my feet dry and the underbrush quickly soaked me from head to toe.

At around mile 15 and 2:54:30, I popped out into bustling downtown Washington. This would make a great place to stop and grab some ice cream or other refreshments at the general store.

Shortly after Washington I went up to the open summit of Oak Hill. You can see Mount Monadnock way off on the horizon.

Looking back North from Pitcher Mountain, Lovewell Mountain (which the trail goes over) sits right of center and Sunapee sits a bit to the left, with a couple wind turbines on the hill at far left.

And ahead to Monadnock, a little closer but still distant.

At the base of Pitcher Mountain I crossed Route 125 at mile 25.1 with 4:51:28 and followed a series of woods roads and singletrack trail to my second water cache at the Route 9 crossing around mile 33.3 with 5:57:33 elapsed.

The center of the town of Nelson, NH.

From this section on, I had anticipated that the trail would be mostly road or easy trail and that I'd be able to bank some significant time but the temperatures had begun to pick up and I was slowing down with my usual noon-time bonk. Until I ran into a familiar face...

Let's just say I'm not nearly as brave when I'm on foot as when I'm in a 3,500 pound Subaru and I high tailed it out of there.

There were several long stretch of dirt roads on this section that reminded me very much of the Vermont 100, which is to say: steep and hot. With little traffic, I kept switching sides - trying to stay in the shade as much as possible.

There were a couple glimpses of my destination through the trees, but nothing really photogenic. There was this cool dam, though.

Getting closer to Route 101 (41.2 miles, 7:53:46), I crossed through the Eliza Adams Gorge, which was running a bit high. I wouldn't have wanted to fall off those bridges.

The homestretch up Monadnock was quite a bit harder than I anticipated. Suffering from muscle spasms in my calves, my pace slowed drastically and I watched my goal time of 9 hours slip away. Amidst the crowd at the top, I was just another worn out hiker (though I think I smelled the worst of anybody up there).

And... done in 9:18:43.

I found a secluded place just away from the maddening crowd to linger and nap for a while until my wife arrived. My whole day stretches away to the horizon.

And the requisite finishing portrait (with dirty socks in the foreground).

Once again I'm surprised by the adventures that are available in my own backyard. The Greenway was a blast to run and still within an hour of home. I don't do a whole lot of backpacking, but when my daughter is old enough I look forward to bringing her camping at some of the shelters on this easily accessible gem. We'll know just where to go now that daddy has scouted out the whole thing.

And along those lines, I want to add a short note about long distance trail running. There seems to be a fairly prevalent opinion that someone like myself can't possible appreciate the true beauty of a particular area. Running is certainly a different flavor of the natural world that I very much enjoy; the sense of flow and feeling like a deer at home running through the forest doesn't come to me by any other means. But this does not mean that I have to sacrifice other slower, more patient forms of enjoying the woods. Speed and enjoyment in all its forms are not mutually exclusive. There will be (and are, and have been) days when I've spent hours just micro-contemplating a single spot, whether that be a secluded bit of woods or an open summit. Having different styles to choose from gives a broader experience that those who criticize might do well to experience for themselves.

GPS track for the day:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Up the Downes - Sandwich Range Loop

Not worrying about peak-bagging any more can be kind of liberating. While the White Mountain Four-Thousand-Footers will always play a central role in my outdoor adventures, I've broadened my horizons a bit. Nowadays a fun weekend day consists of linking up fun sections of trail and exploring new places, as well as visiting old familiar summits.

Making a loop out of Passaconaway, Whiteface, and the Tripyramids from the Kancamagus Highway is fairly common, but had a couple ideas to make it really interesting. I'd start at the Downes Brook Trail and branch off to bushwhack up the Downes Brook Slide to the summit of Passaconaway, then run down the other side of the mountain on the super-fun Dicey's Mills Trail before taking a right and heading steeply up Mount Whiteface on the Tom Wiggins and Blueberry Ledge Trails. From there a quick jaunt across the Kate Sleeper Trail would bring me to the Tripyramids for another blast of a descent down the Sabbaday Brook Trail and a short road run back to the car.

It was a hot and muggy Sunday and within a few minutes of setting out I was soaked with sweat. After a couple bonus miles (herp, derp!) on the UNH Trail I finally figured out where I was going and got under way.

The beginning of the Downes Brook Slide is easy to find, a little over two miles in on the Downes Brook Trail. It's the only brook crossing that looks at all slidey.

The open ledges were a little slick, but a low angle, careful foot placement, and sticky rubber soles made it casual and fun.

There were a few ledges to skirt around but I had no trouble following the abandoned trail. Official maintenance stopped in the 1940s but the area saw some bootleg care until the Forest Circus shut the party down in the 90s, as federal agencies are prone to do.

Following the end the slide there was a very steep climb to a nice North outlook and I was on the summit of P-way in around an hour-forty.

A quick peak over towards the Tripyramids; this afternoon's destination.

Much of the Dicey's Mills Trail descends at a moderate grade with footing that encourages a nice fast running flow without being too easy. The sign for the Tom Wiggins trail warns "steep and loose, not recommended" but proved to be a bit of an exaggeration and made for a nice vigorous connector of to Blueberry Ledge Trail where I got a look back across the Bowl at P-way.

I'd been on the Kate Sleeper Trail several times in the last year, but not since October's Hurricane Sandy. I encountered a few blowdowns, but thought little of it.

Until I arrived here. There was quarter to half-mile stretch of utter destruction where nearly every tree was uprooted and laid flat, obliterating the trail. It took quite a while to work through.

Shortly after the spur trail for East Sleeper things cleared up and went back to normal.

I didn't linger too long on the Tripyramids as the forecast was calling for afternoon thunderstorms, and it did indeed feel like rain.

After some initial steepness, the Sabbaday Brook Trail joins up with an old logging road; a ton of fun to cruise down past some of Hurricane Irene's handowork.

Mmmm... sandwich. It's the end of the day and I'm hungry for some real food.

The last time I went through here was in winter and involved an involuntary plunge into the brook through some thin ice. This time I jumped in on purpose to cool off and it was the highlight of my day rather than a scary moment to remember. Well-draining trail running shoes and thin socks allow me to just wade in wherever I feel like and make me glad I gave up boots along time ago.

The Sabbaday Falls tourist area was rather quiet and I took that chance to check out the Falls and gorge.

And finally back at the car with some real food and a refreshing beverage.

Totals for the day (including my little detour at he start).