Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Memorial Day Hiking

Its a tradition that has gone on for years. A holiday weekend with a journey into the mountains. For the last 5 or so years now Sarah and I have had the same camp site at Crawford Notch General Store and Campground. The site rests quietly on the banks of the Saco River, which at this point in its travels is a mere 10 miles young. Towering above the chilly rush of water are the cliffs of Mount Crawford. The constant rush of the water drowns out the noise and hoopla wrought on by our fellow campers. Every year, people walk onto our site to take in the view with us, they walk to the store and try to reserve the site for themselves for the following year... only to find out that sorry... WE ALL READY HAVE! Neener Neener Neener.

Along with the tradition of camping in this historic place, comes the traditions of outdoor exploration. In years past, our Memorial Day weekend has included two days of hiking along with a race. I've run The Vermont City Marathon twice and the Pineland Farms 50K once. I've hiked to the summit of various peaks. This year would be a bit different though. The focus of our time was, of course being out doors but, that of relaxation. We wanted to enjoy each others company and a quieter stroll through the forest. So... our Saturday started with the singing of birds, the rush of the flowing water and our old friend Drew waking us up asking where breakfast was. Drew had parked up at the road and walked down into camp to rustle us out of bed. I dragged myself out and started cooking right away. I make a mean Egg McMuffin at camp and I made plenty for all of us to enjoy. The Orange Juice and coffee flowed and we were starting the day off right.

Drew drove ahead and we dropped our car off at the Willey House Historical Site. We decided to leave a car here and hike over to it. We then piled into Drews car and drove up to Zealand Road. Along the way, after passing the Highland Center we noticed AMC crews working in a field next to their storage trailer. They were getting set up for some heli-drops to the high mountain huts. It looked like they were dropping off a seasons worth of fuel to a few of the huts, but who knows, we never heard or saw them in action. We got to the end of Zealand Road, parked the car and headed off down the trail. It was a gorgeous morning despite being a little overcast, temps were cool and there was no wind. It was quiet and pleasant and we were excited to be here.

We slowly meandered down the trail, past the Beaver Swamps and over mounds of old dusty moose droppings. Drew entertained us with stories about this past winters excited moose that had settled down in the area and had been giving hikers a hard time. He certainly has a way with words and knows how to entertain us. We soon came to a junction in the trail and we opted to travel in the direction we'd never gone before, onto the Ethan Pond Trail heading back towards Crawford Notch. Our journey would take us around Whitewall Mountain. Whitewall Mountain is littered with what seems like a million large boulders, which had been carved and re-placed by loggers of the late 1800's and early 1900's. JE Henry and his logging railroads, moved the earth out of their way as they lay miles of tracks down to move their lumber out of the "woods" and out to the main rail for transport to port. We stopped to take in the views and I even gave Drew a short Map and Compass lesson as we looked off towards the Hancocks.

After the completion of the short lesson and some snacks we rose back to our feet and continued our walk. We followed along the old railroad grade until we came to our next junction. The Thoreu Falls trail headed off to the right and I'd never been there. My father has told me of some rather large holes in the rock there that are speculated to have been formed by Extraterrestrial Aircraft. I didn't see the holes he was talking about over there, but I did see magnificent water falls and outstanding views of Guyot and The Bonds.

We headed back to the Ethan Pond Trail and worked our way onwards. Soon we came to an old bridge which looks like it was assembled by the loggers. Large tracks of timber, covered in creosote spanned the river. While standing on the bridge, I glanced around on the river banks and saw evidence of larger bridge structures having been near by years earlier. Large concrete abutments still sit quietly along the rivers shore with large coils of metal materials lay under years of decaying duff. The history in these woods is deep and it intrigues me greatly.

We started to head up a very subtle incline as we made our way towards Ethan Pond. I was at Ethan pond this past November on a rain filled night (see "Slept In A Puddle) and I wanted to return when it wasn't cold, rainy and snowy. Ethan Pond holds its place in history as a place where Ethan Allen Crawford himself used to love to hunt. Stories of this mans past include one in which he shot and killed a bear only to later lift the bear onto his shoulders and walk proudly down to the notch where he brought his kill home. There used to be Otter living in this pond, there is no more evidence of their residence here. The quiet waters of Ethan Pond sit silently below the rocky summit of Mounts Willey and Field. We stopped for a break as Sarah's blood sugar was giving her small issue. The rest was well welcome on our lazy stroll through the forest. We even found some snow nestled into the woods in the surrounding area.

We left Ethan Pond and headed for home. The trail all along the Ethan Pond area was a series of Bog Bridges carefully placed here by AMC Trail crews to maintain trail. The moss covered soaked earth is lined by various bogs, perfect moose habitat. Even though we never saw a moose, we counted over 200 bog bridges. Building and placing these is a monumental feat. Simply amazing!

We came to the trails junction with the Willey Range Trail, we took a right and immediately ran into hikers coming down off of Willey and others heading up. The trails on this side of the woods are a busy place as peak-baggers seek their peaks. We then came to the junction with the Kedron Flume Trail. This was our final trail of the day as we walked steeply downhill, over the Kedron Flume and down to the tracks of the Conway Scenic Railroad which still operates through the notch in summer months. The sun never came out, but the gray sky allowed some different views and perspectives on a magnificent place. Always plenty to explore and the Memorial Day traditions continue.