It’s that time of year again when your mailbox gets flooded by gift guides from various companies. The last few years I’ve shared a selection of hand-picked curated gifts for the outdoor person in your life. Check out my 2020 best gifts for outdoor folks below!
Like water bottles everyone needs a first aid kit. MyMedic has an impressive line of kits to choose from starting with the basic version of “The Solo” for $35 all the way up to more expensive kits designed for working EMTs/Paramedics.
An incredible rugged and easy to use pair of hand held radios can greatly improve safety while enjoying mountain sports. You can read my full review of these here and get 10% off with promo code “AlpineStart10”.
These are 40% off through tomorrow with promo code “THANKFUL”! Awesome for outdoor light both at home and while backpacking that really is a killer deal. I’m also a fan of the new Luci Base Light that can charge your smartphone while also providing great back-up light. We have that model and a few of the Original Luci Lights that we use while car camping and during power-outages at home.
This socially responsible company makes the coolest water bottles and tumblers out there! Super high quality stainless steel technology keeps cold drinks cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 6 hours! Customization and tons of color and style options means there is a Hydro Flask out there for just about everyone!
I’m pretty sure the 10 seconds of silence from my girlfriend after asking her to marry me was enough time for her to accept that she loved a man with some seriously stinky feet. Luckily she said yes and I would soon find this foot powder, seriously the only product that works on my feet! 10 years later she is quick to remind me if she notices my supply running low. This one is a PERFECT stocking stuffer, pick it up on Amazon here.
Possibly the best socks I’ve ever owned and made right over the border in Vermont! For mountaineering and ice climbing check out this model! These socks come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee and make an excellent stocking stuffer!
Every home in the Northeast should have one of these! It’s effective enough that I can easily dry my boots and gloves along with my wife’s in just a couple hours. No balancing them over the floor base heaters or getting them too hot near the wood-stove and risking early de-lamination! You can pick on up on Amazon here.
The Petzl Nao+ is the best headlamp for anyone who gets after dawn patrol or squeezes in late night pitches after work!
While I do love these online deals I want to take up this space by encouraging you support local businesses, especially small specialty climbing shops, with your business! To that end if you can physically visit these stores please do!
Well there’s my small contribution to the every growing list of Holiday Gift Guides that are undoubtedly hitting your mailbox this season. My suggestions are heartfelt and I hope they help you find something for the outdoor person(s) in your life!
Over the last few months I’ve been using the Epic Water Filters Outdoor OG Woodsman water bottle and I’m ready to share my thoughts on it. Basically this is a traditional 32 ounce Nalgene wide-mouth water bottle with a super convenient and effective internal water filter.
This system could not be any easier to use. Simply remove the lid with the attached tube and filter, fill the bottle with water whether from faucet or stream, put the lid back on, flip up the mouthpiece, and drink! The water flows through the filter and tube with little effort on the part of the drinker.
The lid attachment point is robust, far stronger than the flimsy attachments that often break on traditional Nalgene bottles. The included Nite Ize steel carabiner allows easy attaching to the outside of the backpack if you prefer that style of carry.
Here’s a short YouTube video I made about this bottle:
Summary/Who is this for?
Who doesn’t need a water-bottle and safe drinking water? This is a much more environmentally friendly and cheaper option than buying bottled water. Perfect as a daily use bottle for work and the gym I also consider it part of our emergency preparedness kit. Hiking, back-packing, rafting, hunting and fishing are all sports where a water-bottle and ability to treat water is a must. This bottle combines the two in a simple and effective way and has now become a part of my everyday kit. This would also make a great gift for any outdoorsy person in your life and has therefore earned a spot in my upcoming Holiday Gift Guide!
For a complete list of everything the included Outdoor Filter removes you can review this PDF.
A quick look at hiking forums online confirms what I am expecting… unprecedented new winter hikers will be visiting the White Mountains this winter. In order to help these newcomers more safely enter the sport of winter hiking I’ve compiled a list of resources and advice below.
Likely the single most over-looked piece of information prior for a first winter hike is obtaining an accurate regionally specific weather forecast. If you are planning a winter hike in the White Mountains you should consult the Higher Summits Forecast for a few days before your planned hike and the morning of! Things change fast in the mountains and the forecast is published around 4am which should be in time for you to get an accurate update before you leave the car.
The second most likely mistake to make is not bringing the right equipment. Every one on the hike should at a minimum carry “The Ten Essentials“. I’ll list some of my personal recommendations below and add some opinions/advice.
Cell Phone– While this one isn’t officially on the list it should be. The mistake is thinking this can replace any of the other 10 essential items. You should not rely on having service or any battery life left. A mapping app does not replace a physical map. The phone’s flashlight does not replace a real headlamp. Cell phones are susceptible to cold weather, so they should be kept warm, inside a chest or thigh pocket. Most importantly, leave the car with a fully charged phone and immediately put the phone on AIRPLANE mode! While on airplane mode you can still take pictures and use the phone’s GPS chip to track your hike if you are using pre-downloaded mapping apps. If you are not on airplane mode your battery we die quickly as your phone searches for a signal in out of service areas.
Personal Locator Beacon– With cell phone service not guaranteed many experienced hikers are choosing to invest in a personal locator beacon (PLB). While a bit expensive (what insurance isn’t) a PLB works through a satellite network so you can request help, or let worried family know you are just running a little late, from virtually anywhere. The best kind of PLB’s allow for two way communication and custom messaging. It’s much easier for search and rescue to respond when we have a message about what the actual emergency is. One of the most popular models on the market that can do that right now is the Garmin InReach Mini.
Headlamp– You might think you can finish the hike before dark but everyone in the group should carry their own headlamp. For serious winter hiking I like headlamps that can really throw some light and perform well in the cold, like the Petzl Swift RL Headlamp. A more budget friendly option would be the Petzl Actik Headlamp. I actually stuff a Petzl Zipka Headlamp into my first aid kit as a back-up headlamp for when someone forgets theirs. I also use lithium batteries in all my headlamps for long life and excellent cold weather performance.
Map– The AMC publishes 6 great maps that cover the entire White Mountain National Forest. You could also learn how to make your own custom maps for free on a website like CalTopo.com, if you have your own quality color printer (or have UPS Store/Staples print them for you). Do not solely rely on your cell phone app to keep you from getting lost. Battery life can quickly drain in cold temps and we do reach temperatures below the operating range of the phone display’s.
The rest of the list includes; extra clothes, food, water, sun protection, etc.
Many rescues, accidents, and near misses share something in common… late start times. Darkness comes quick in the winter months so an early start increases your overall safety and leave wider margins for unexpected mishaps. Many experienced winter hikers prefer to hit the trail right at dawn. Starting a 4000 footer at 11am is riskier than starting a 4000 footer at 7am.
Knowing when to turn back
One of the hardest skills to develop as a new winter hiker is determining when to turn it around and head back towards safety. We want to be challenged and meet success on our hiking trips but we must be careful to always balance the delicate risk vs reward scale. Many books and articles have been written on the topic of lost life in the Presidential Range and greater White Mountain Region. You can learn from these tragedies and remember to stay humble… we are all prone to making mistakes. Some books on the topic worth checking out:
For many the best way to get into winter hiking is to do so with people who are already experienced at winter hiking. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a very long history of helping people learn to recreate in the mountains safely and responsibly. They have tons of courses and guided hikes designed for the aspiring new winter hiker.
If you’re goal is to travel above treeline in the winter there are a host of well established guide services that offer quality programs and can rent you the specialized equipment you might not want to purchase yet as you’re just dipping your toes into the sport of winter hiking (like plastic mountaineering boots, crampons, mountaineering axe, etc). Better yet their guides will teach you how to properly pack, adjust layers during the day, walk with crampons on, self arrest, with an axe, etc).
Here’s is a list of some of the most known companies that run trips in the White Mountains;
(if you are a guide service that leads winter hikes in the White Mountains and were not included in the above list please contact me to be added)
Other than the knowledge you can gain from the above guided experiences there are two skills every hiker should obtain early on in their hiking career, Wilderness Navigation Skills and Wilderness First Aid Skills. While you can learn some of these skills from sources like YouTube nothing beats hands on training with quality instructors.
Check out the Hike Safe website. It has great information to help you plan your hike including “The Code“. Also please consider purchasing a Hike Safe Card from New Hampshire Fish and Game. This purchase adds crucial funding to a very tight budget for search and rescue in NH and might help you avoid incurring the cost of a rescue should you need one.
From NHFG website:
It is important to note that people may still be liable for response expenses, if they are deemed to be reckless or to have intentionally created a situation requiring an emergency response.
Winter hiking is an amazing sport and one I have enjoyed for over thirty years. It can be magical, beautiful, spiritual, exhilarating, and grandiose. It can also go from a fun outing to dangerous and deadly quite quickly. My best advice is to start off slow, read some books or articles on it, seek advice from quality outdoor retailers, join a hiking group, start with smaller hikes and save Mount Washington or the Franconia Ridge for when you’ve got some experience under your belt. Maybe hire a guide or instructor and take a formalized course. Most importantly though… please come home at the end of your hike.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog. If you make a purchase through one of them the author receives a small commission at no additional cost to you.The author is also a guide who works for Northeast Mountaineering, which was listed alongside other guide services in the area.You are responsible for your own safety. The use of any information in this post is at your own risk.
This year Patagonia has released a lighter version of their iconic DAS “Dead Air Space” synthetic parka and after a month of testing the Patagonia DAS Light Hoody I can honestly say it’s a amazing piece! Without a doubt you won’t find a warmer and more bomb-proof synthetic belay jacket under 12 ounces.
For insulation Patagonia used 65 grams of down-like “PlumaFill”. This 100% recycled insulation truly feels as warm as high quality down yet has the advantage of still retaining heat should it get wet. You’ll have to go out of your way to get it wet though thanks to the almost seamless Pertex® Quantum Pro fabric with both a PU dry coating and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. That’s about as close to waterproof as you can get while still having functional breath-ability and makes this jacket stand above the Micro and Nano Puff jackets with their sewn through quilted patterns.
A two way zipper for easy access to your belay loop, size-able chest pocket, helmet friendly hood, and two handwarmer pockets round out the features. The cut of the jacket is roomy, closer to a true belay jacket than a typical “light puffy”. I went with a size large for my 5′ 9″ 180lb frame and there was plenty of room to layer under it but it didn’t feel to baggy. My only suggestion is the left hand pocket that can be turned inside out to stuff the jacket needs to be a little bigger, it’s a bit of a challenge trying to get the jacket to stuff into that pocket.
Here’s a quick video review I did on the jacket:
Summary/Who is this for?
The Patagonia DAS Light Hoody is a pretty versatile piece. It’s an excellent choice for a fast & light ice climber/alpinist belay jacket if conditions are typical. It’s a great insurance piece for the back-country skier or rider who doesn’t plan to stop moving but wants to be prepared for any contingency and winter hikers will find it an excellent addition to their gear closet. If you’re looking for some cold weather protection this is a jacket you should be looking at!
Communication is crucial to safe backcountry travel, and nothing helps improve communication than a quality set of radios. This past summer I received a new pair of Rocky Talkies to review and after 6 months of hard use I’m ready to share my thoughts on them!
Right out of the box I could feel how durable these radios are. First there is the shatterproof front screen that is transparent for the LED display. Then there is the removable rubberized case for all-around drop protection. The case fits so snugly I didn’t even realize it was removable until I really started to dig into the radio after months of use. There isn’t much reason to remove the case unless you’re carrying spare batteries (more on battery life later).
In addition to having all this drop protection the radio comes with one of the most robust tether systems I’ve ever seen on a radio. A full strength Mammut Wall Light carabiner attaches the radio to my shoulder strap (or on my harness gear loop when not wearing a pack), and a metal snap-link auto retracting tether acts as a solid back-up and allows the radio to easily stay in reach.
For water resistance the radios carry an IP56 rating, meaning they are splash-proof and snow-proof but should not be fully submerged. I’ve noticed no effect after having my pair routinely exposed to heavy rain or waterfall spray while guiding waterfall rappelling trips all summer so I have a fair amount of confidence in this level of resistance.
The second feature that caught my attention was during my very first test run. I was standing at the top of a 200 foot waterfall and my co-guide was at the bottom as we prepared to send our guests down the rappel we had set up. I called him to make sure we were good-to-go and his response came back clearer than any radio, including some of the expensive and bigger radios I have been issued for search & rescue. The audio quality of these little hand-held radios far exceeds any of the other radios I have tested. It almost doesn’t sound like a radio, and sounds more like a 5 bar LTE connection with a modern smartphone!
There are only five buttons, which makes this radio incredibly easy to use right out of the box. No need for programming, though you can use advanced features to add privacy codes. A power button, channel flipper, push-to-talk, and volume up and down. So simple! With these buttons you are able to scan all channels, lock and un-lock the radio, change between high and low power, change channel, change privacy codes (CT, DCS), and check battery life.
This was one of the hardest features for me to truly test as I am almost never that far from my clients or partners. Alpine rock climbing in Huntington Ravine we are always within 60 meters of each other. This winter back-country skiing that distance can increase to a maximum of a half mile… still way within the suggested range. So I’ll share the claims and some of the great info Rocky Talkie has released to help address this popular question.
This is a 2-watt radio… the strongest watt option available that doesn’t require a license to transmit on. The antennae is fixed, which is something I like as other radio models I’ve used have removable antennas that often have been loose (and once almost lost).
Rocky Talkie makes these range claims:
Line-of-sight: 25+ miles Mountains: 1 to 5 miles Forest/Hills: 0.5 to 3 miles City: Up to 1 mile
To further illustrate how the range of these radios, and many radios in general, are effected by the terrain they are being used in they published this excellent blog post addressing this topic.
I found the battery life to be substantial, especially for such a small radio. My informal testing showed the battery would last for over 12 days of use while guiding both waterfall rappelling and rock climbing trips. These were 5 to 8 hour long trips were radio use was light. Based on that I would expect I could easily get 3-5 cold backcountry ski tours in before needing to charge. It charges with a USB-C to USB-a cable (included).
Some more info on battery life from the manufacturer:
The Rocky Talkie has a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 1550 mAhrs. Battery life is dependent on how frequently the radios send and receive signals. With normal usage, the battery can be expected to last 3-5 days (assuming the radio is used 8hrs/day). The battery will last over 120 hrs when in standby mode (the radio is on but not transmitting or receiving signals). The battery life was tested in high power mode (2 Watts), so you can expect a slightly longer battery life on low power mode (.5 Watt).
Dedication to Rescue Teams
Rocky Talkie has pledged to donate $2 of every radio sold to search and rescue teams. They are giving $10,000 every year through an annual award and through a grant program. That kind of support from a manufacturer is really appreciated!
For under 5 ounces this might be one of the best things you could add to your outdoor kit when it comes to overall team safety. The rugged feel of these radios inspire confidence in their longevity. The crystal clear audio instills confidence that the message I am sending or receiving will be understood. While there are a lot of handhelds on the market these days, you’d be hard pressed to find many other options that were obviously designed for with the climber and skier in mind!
As I finish this review I see that they are currently sold out… not surprised as I’ve watched outfitters and rescue teams across the country snap these up. The guide service I work for, Northeast Mountaineering, has purchased a fleet of 10 for our guides to use this winter! They should be back in-stock by early November, so you can subscribe to their email for notification of the restock here.
All new for 2020! The pinnacle series from Deuter has been completely redesigned and overhauled – resulting in a new, minimalistic Guide Lite 24. Balanced load distribution and stability are results of a flexible, tensioned Delrin U-frame. Its ultra-lightweight. uncluttered design includes quick, one-handed, access via a draw cord closure. Mountaineers and alpinists will love the lightweight nature and minimalistic feature set of the Guide Lite 24. Our newly innovated ice axe attachment has 3 points of contact, yet still allows users to remove the ice axe nimbly, and without taking off the pack.
Manufacturer Website Listed Weight: 1.43 lbs
I did find some weight discrepancies when using my home electric cooking scale. Normally packs are an ounce or two off but in this case the complete pack was a half-pound heavier than claimed. I took the removable components off the pack and weighed everything separately and together to get a better idea of the true weight based on each configuration.
The complete pack weighed 2 lbs, 1 ounce (938 grams). The top lid weighed 3.5 ounces (94 grams). The waist belt weight 5.5 ounces (160 grams). So the claimed pack weight looks to match the completely stripped down version of the pack at 1 lb, 8 ounces (684 grams).
For a pack of this volume I do feel this is slightly on the heavier side when compared to similar packs in the class. This extra weight probably comes from the more robust internal frame and thicker closed cell foam shoulder and back pads then similar models.
Deuter lists the “length” as 22 inches. I wasn’t sure what this was referring too. User torso length? That would be a giant (or at least MLB player). I broke out my tape measure and it appears that the length of the pack when flattened from bottom to the top (not including extendable collar) is about 22 inches, so I’m thinking that’s what they are listing in the specs. More importantly though is what size torso will this pack fit, and for that I took some more measurements. This pack only comes in one size (though there is a woman’s version and a larger capacity version). Measuring from the top of the shoulder straps to the middle of the waist belt is about 17 inches. This would be the closest measurement to torso length (if you don’t know your torso length it’s easy to measure with a tape measure, YouTube it!).
I have a 19 inch torso (5’9″ tall but torso length is more accurate when fitting packs). That means this pack rides a bit high on me when it comes to the waist belt. This worked fine for me as I often was wearing this pack over my harness, and I preferred to leave the waist belt on and clip it above my harness. Combined with the sternum strap this helped the back hug my back closely while climbing.
With 24 liters (1,465 cubic inches) I could easily carry my full rock guiding kit or my 4000 footer packing list while I work on the 48’s with my son this summer. The extendable collar adds another 600 or so cubic inches. An external helmet carry system frees up even more pack space, and a climbing rope can easily be secured over the top of the pack thanks to long enough top-side compression straps with fast release buckles.
This pack definitely carries well. The internal frame feels like a thin plastic sheet reinforced with two stiffer stays running down the sides. This made awkward loads (like a full trad-rack) carry with no pressure points. The waist belt is quite wide (4.5 inches at widest) and wraps perfectly around the body. In my case this was a bit over the hip bone but a shorter user would find it quite comfy. The height adjustable sternum strap (with whistle) did a great job of keeping the pack centered. I would suggest they remove the “load lifting” straps and buckles as they really don’t serve a function since they are attached at the top of back panel. Overall this was a very comfy pack for day-hiking and rock climbing multi-pitch routes.
Quite a few features on this pack that some may really like and others may find a little bit excessive for an alpine pack. Things I really liked was the well sized removable top pocket with both external and internal compartments. It also has a great “alpine emergency” info graphic under the lid that lists emergency numbers for different countries, universal SOS signals, and more. The pack is hydration system compatible through I did not use a system with the pack. I also didn’t test this pack in winter so I have not used the ice axe carry system but playing with it at home it’s pretty slick. While seemingly cosmetic I’m a huge fan of the high visibility orange color that this pack is available in.
The new Deuter Guide Lite 30+ Backpack is a solid choice for a technical backpack that also has the carrying comfort and features one might look for in a more general day hiking backpack. Dual ice axe and rope carrying capability let it cross over to both winter mountaineering and ice climbing applications. This is a pack worth looking at if you’d like a well made pack that can serve you well whether hiking 4000 footers or getting in some multi-pitch climbing.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links above help support this blog.
My alarm went off at 5 am and I let the kids sleep a bit more while I finished packing our packs. I picked Tecumseh as the 2nd 4000 footer for the boys as it appears on most “easiest 4k hike” lists and is technically the lowest in elevation (4,003). Leaving Conway at 5:40 we enjoyed a clear sunrise while we crossed the Kancamagus highway and after picking up some breakfast from the Lincoln D&D we headed down to Campton, NH and up into Waterville Valley on Rt 49.
We started up the Mt. Tecumseh trail at 7:22 and were soon passed by a dad and a charging young hiker. This trail is so well maintained with stonework and steps I think it is definitely a better choice for a “first 4000 footer” then Mount Jackson. At 9:52 we reached the Sosman trail and turned right on the flat ridge towards the summit.
We opted to take the left fork (Sosman Trail) to the summit and arrived at the summit at 10:07 (2hr 45min, avg. munter rate 3.7). After a 15 minute break we made our way down the Mt. Tecumseh Trail down and around the summit cone to complete that small loop and headed towards the summit of the ski area via the Sosman trail.
After checking out the cool towers on the summit we started down the ski slopes at 11:05, arriving at the base at 12:40. While I’ve seen multiple online trip reports suggest hiking down the ski slopes as an alternative return route I’m going to throw out my opinion on this and say it’s really not a great idea… we wished we returned via the hiking trail for a few reasons:
The direct ski trail descent is often at an angle that is awkward to make good time.
While the views are nice there is no shade (the entire hiking trail is shaded)
Footing is MUCH better on the well designed hiking trail allowing for a faster descent.
Seeing the bottom the whole 1.5 hour descent is a bit disheartening… is it getting closer?
More water for the dog… there are multiple stream crossings on the hiking trail and zero water on the ski slope descent!
We all felt we would have gotten down the hiking trail faster then the ski trails, so I’d highly recommend just heading back down the hiking trail for your descent!
I decided to take Tripoli Rd back towards Thorton and while scenic it’s definitely a pot-hole bumpy road. I couldn’t believe how many cars were parked at the Osceola lot! On our trail we only came across two parties of 2 and one party of 5 on our entire hike! Mid-week hiking FTW!
Back on the other side of the Kanc the kids enjoyed a post hike ice cream at Freeze Louise.
Alex & Alden are now 2/48 with plans to get a few more in this season.
This summer the kids and I have been enjoying some tasty protein and fruit bars from a company founded in the Pacific Northwest, Skout Organic. These bars are non-GMO, Vegan, Kosher, and Free of Gluten, Grain, Dairy, and Soy. While we don’t have any allergies in our household I like that I can keep a couple of these stashed in my pack to share with guests when we are out climbing.
Each of the protein bars offers 10g of protein while keeping the glycemic level low by using organic dates as the base. Each protein bar packs 210-220 calories in just under a 2 ounce bar. The kids bars have 90 calories and weigh just under one ounce each.
Both of the kids got to taste each flavor, and Alex (age 8) picked Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip as his favorite, while Madalena (age 4) went with Blueberry Blast. I had a tough time picking a favorite but at the end of the day I’ll go with Salted Chocolate for the best protein bar and Apple Pie for my favorite kids bar. On hot and humid Northeast days and I would love to see the kid sized fruit bars be available in a 2 ounce size! Adults need fruit too!
For those with nut allergies these options have no peanuts or tree nuts.
Summary and Giveaway!
There are a lot of quality protein bars out there to choose from these days but they are not all equal. Skout Organic does a ton of allergen testing to prevent cross contamination in all levels of production. They taste great and passed my kids rigorous testing! You can order directly from them and first time customers can get $5 off and free shipping here! Just use code “SAMPLER” at checkout!
You can also enter for a chance to win one of each sampler pack! That’s a $30 value! Enter to win at this Rafflecopter link below!
Yesterday my son Alex (age 8) and his best friend Alden (age 9) completed their first 4000 footer climb in the White Mountains. We have set a soft goal for them to complete the 48 4000 Footers by the time they enter high school. I originally got into blogging years ago when I started Adventure With Alex to share trip suggestions and tips on hiking with infants and toddlers. When Alex was too big to carry up mountains I suspended that blog to focus more on Northeast Alpine Start. Now that he is embarking on this endeavor we will share our trip reports and lessons learned here. Our hope is to help others on similar paths learn from our successes and our mistakes as we work on this challenge together. So without further ado here is my report on our first 4k and some of the challenges we needed to manage, like pooping in the woods and arcophobia (fear of heights), and how we managed both.
July 21st, 2020 Mt Jackson (Elevation 4’052)
Around 9 am we pulled into the AMC Highland Center for last minute use of facilities. Everyone was encouraged to try and “go” even if they didn’t feel they needed to. Alex would later share he was hesitant to use the public bathroom after a few months of exercising increased awareness due to COVID. By 9:20 we were on the Webster-Jackson trail.
We passed the Elephant Head Spur trail and minutes later Alex started to complain about stomach pain. I let him know it could be early hike “nerves” since he was questioning his ability to climb a bigger mountain (his previous biggest hike was Mount Chocurua via Champney Falls Trail), or he might need to make a BM. He decided to push on.
By the time we reached the short side path to Bugle Cliff he told me he had to go. We found a bit of privacy about 200 feet from the trail and I coached him on the methods we use for handling this necessity of nature. Despite feeling like he had to go fear of someone seeing him prevented him from success and he decided to get back to hiking. He reported the stomach pain had subsided a bit, so maybe it was just nerves.
When we reached Flume Cascade Brook the discomfort was back and he wanted to try again. We again found some privacy 200 feet from the trail and brook and had another failed attempt to have a “movement”. Back on the trail we continued up to the Webster/Jackson split, and took the Jackson branch.
About a mile from the split the trail steepens and we were faced with the second big challenge of our trip.
My wife has pretty acute arcophobia (fear of heights). The AMC White Mountain Guidebook describes this section of trail as “ascends steep ledges, with several fairly difficult scrambles”. This would be considered “Class 2” terrain by the Sierra Clubs hiking classification system (occasional use of hands necessary). The boys and our dog Jack were handling the scrambles with just a bit of coaching and spotting. My wife Michelle though was quickly experiencing a lot of emotional stress as a result of her arcophobia.
I could see in her face and by her body positioning she was stressed. What might feel like casual scrambling for many was something very different for her. I tried to offer some help, but I also knew she sometimes does not like me talking to her while she figures out how to make progress. Only 100 feet from the summit she was ready to quit, close to tears, and terrified of the prospect of having to come back down this way. My son and I encouraged her to finish the next 100 feet with us as there might be an easier way back down.
On the summit the celebration waited while both Michelle and Alex rested. Alex was a bit distraught as he knew his mother had been scared on the last section. After some hugs and talking we ate some lunch and I consulted the map. It was 12:50 pm. It had taken us 3 and a half hours to summit against a “book time” of 2:25. That extra hour was due to two lengthy attempts at having a BM, and multiple more small breaks that are not part of my usual hiking pace. For future reference I’m noting that we averaged a “Munter Rate*” of 3.
*Munter Rate is an amazing way of estimating hiking time. For more info check out this article or download this app that I use!
While the shortest way back to the trail head is back down the Jackson branch, I knew my wife would really struggle with some of the “difficult scrambles” she had made it up. I looked closely at the contour lines under the Webster Cliff Trail and the Webster branch. They were not as close as the contour lines under the Jackson branch, which meant it should be a less steep option. This would add a mile to our trip, but likely be less of a down-scramble than the Jackson branch. As a group we discussed this option and reached consensus that we should add this mileage, and likely an hour to our day, if it meant less technical.
We left the summit of Jackson at 1:12 pm and started down the Webster Cliff Trail. Soon after leaving the summit we reached a bit of a scramble, but it was not as bad as the scrambles at the end of the Jackson branch. We slowly negotiated it then hit the relatively easy walking ridge that connects over to Mt Webster. A mother Quail and two of her chicks held us up for a moment while they sat in the middle of the trail. Just before reaching the Webster branch trail junction Alex told me it was time, he had to go.
We made our way off trail to a secluded spot. With some effort Alex was finally able to move his bowels. We buried his waste and packed out the used wipes in a Ziploc and rejoined Michelle, Alden, and Jack on the trail. Relieved to not have stomach pain anymore we ate some candy and started down the Webster branch happy to be heading in the direction of the trail head now.
At 3:50 we reached the beautiful cascade and pool that is part of Silver Cascade Brook. I couldn’t resist a quick swim and jumped in. The water was cold and crisp and while I would be hiking the rest of the way in soaked shorts and trail shoes it was 100% worth it.
The rest of the way out was a bit slow going. Michelle’s right knee was hurting, feeling worse than her left knee that she injured a few years ago. This was her first significant hike in a few years and we both regretted not grabbing any of the pairs of trekking poles we had sitting at home. We will not forget them next time!
As we closed in on 8 hours of hiking I was amazed at how well the boys were doing with the final “slog” part of the day. Their conversations about Fortnite and YouTube had them laughing and giggling for the last couple miles. Alden would often check on Michelle as she was being extra cautious for the last bit of trail. We reached the parking lot at 5:40 pm, had a round of high-fives, and headed straight for ice cream.
Lessons Learned (What would I do differently next time?)
Earlier start time. A typical Munter rate of 4 would have this round trip loop take 4.5-5 hours (close to book time). Assuming a slower rate of 3 would get us closer in our planning to the actual 8 hours and 20 minutes that it took. I would prefer to hit the trail closer to 7 am.
More encouragement to have a BM before hitting the trail. Kids can be very shy about doing this in the woods, so talking about it before hand can help make them more comfortable.
Pack a trowel… burying waste without one is not an easy task.
Trekking poles for Michelle on every hike
Pure water instead of hydration mix for the kids, both kids felt regular water would have been better on nervous stomachs.
Dog food for Jack… we remembered snacks for him but he didn’t get his breakfast in the morning so was probably really really hungry. We will be buying him a dog pack soon, any suggestions?
Both boys were really proud of their accomplishment. The idea that there are 47 more of these mountains to attempt felt slightly overwhelming. We decided we will also start working on the “52 with a View” list so that we can have some lighter days mixed in with the big days. Alex has already climbed Mount Willard, Potash Mountain, and Mount Chocorua from that list.
Coming soon we will be sharing our gear lists for these climbs and how we tweak what we are carrying. Stay tuned!
Our family is a sun hoody family. Any one who hikes or climbs with me knows I won’t stop singing the praises of the sun hoody. Earlier this Spring as the bug season arrived I went through my gear closet to take stock of how many sun hoody’s we currently have in rotation (3 for me, 2 for my wife, none for the kids!?).
Getting my kids to enjoy outdoor time is especially important to me given how much screen time they are getting due to school being almost 100% online during the current pandemic, so I didn’t hesitate to order them both new sun hoody’s from REI. We went with the REI-Co-op Sahara Sun Hoodie for kids.
These are as nice as the adult versions I have tested from various quality manufacturers. With a 50+ UPF rating we don’t go through as much sun block as we usually would. The material is soft to the touch, comfortable on bare skin, and super breath-able. Alex (age 8) likes the thumb holes which keep the sleeves down and provide some extra coverage to the back of his hands. Madalena (age 4) loves the color purple.
REI makes a full size range from XXS (4-5 years) to XL (18 years). We got the XXS for our almost 5 year old daughter who is on the small side. It fit her great and we are expecting to get a second summer out of it. For our almost 9 year old son who is on the slightly tall side we got him the M (10-12 years) size and it definitely was not too big for him… we expect to get a second summer or two out of his!
With 50 SPF on such thin breathable fabric wearing these keeps the kids cooler than just wearing a t-shirt. While thin we haven’t noticed an mosquito getting through the fabric, though we do take the extra precaution of treating them with Sawyer Permethrin Clothing and Gear Repellent. This is another product we use every Spring. I treat one pair of hiking pants for each of us, and all of our sun hoodies, and one pair of hiking shoes each. There is simply not a more effective way of really repelling mosquitos, black flies, and ticks than using this clothing treatment. You can literally walk through a tick infested field of tall grass with pure immunity.
Sun hoodies are still a relatively new addition in the outdoor clothing market and a know a lot of people haven’t caught on yet. Once you start wearing one on a hot humid summer day though you’ll see the light (or the shade) that keeps you cooler and lets you play outside with less greasy sunblock and less toxic on skin bug repellents. For a couple years we couldn’t find kid sized sun hoodies so it’s great to see a company like REI making these for our little ones!