Willey, Tom, Field – 12/25/19: a Christmas adventure

Hey folks!

Merry merry to those of you who celebrate Christmas ❤️🎄 I hope you all had a wonderful day!

This year, Christmas was a day for getting outside and adventuring with a gal pal, Alyssa.

I don’t have family or many friends in the area as I just moved in early October and my parents are in Florida currently (they are heading West soon!) doing the whole full-time RV life shindig. So, why not spend the day doing something that fulfills my soul and that I’m mega grateful to have in my life – hiking! I’ve found my Christmas tradition. As someone who will likely (never say never) always live alone, doesn’t love social gatherings, and won’t have family nearby for holidays, it’s fitting. It’s more than fitting, it’s perfect.

Spur trail headed to Mt. Tom

Alyssa and I decided to hike Willey, Tom, and Field and I think we were both very happy with this choice throughout the day and post hike! There are a few different route options for these mountains and we decided to do an out and back starting at Crawford Depot station and used Avalon Trail, A-Z Trail, the Tom Spur Path, and Willey Range Trail.

This out and back route is a nice 10.2 mile hike, and for most of the day, the trails were hard packed highway status.

Over the summer, I did this hike with my friend Jo and instead of taking the Willey Range Trail from Mt. Field back to A-Z trail to Avalon Trail, we added Mt. Avalon which was a fun addition! No hike recap for that day, but it was a misty and humid one!

Back to Christmas…

I felt pretty festive myself as I wore green leggings and a maroon colored jacket, sadly no Santa hat. Apparently the hat didn’t make the move North with me, because I did used to own one. Throughout the day we must have passed close to a dozen other hikers, which Alyssa and I were both surprised by! A couple we passed were much more dressed up and festive than myself and I’ll surely be upping my game for 2020.

Water crossing on Avalon Trail headed to A-Z Trail

Avalon Trail starts off as a mellow walk in the woods. There’s a branch off for Mt. Willard right at the start, which was one of my first hikes as a child. We talked about how amazing the trail conditions were for the first time out of what would probably be fifty times by the end of the day. I love winter hikes that you can do car to car in microspikes and not think twice about that decision. It’s easy walking, the noise of the spikes is practically walking meditation for my brain, and I’m not tripping over myself in snowshoes. Win, win, win.

There are two small water crossings on this section, both were a mix of ice bridges and easy rock hopping. Watching the water flowing under the frozen rocks and ice at crossings is such a peaceful experience. Nature truly is an amazing thing when you take a step back and really take it all in and think about it.

Which way which way

After about a mile on Avalon Trail we branched off to the A-Z trail to head towards Mt. Tom. This would make my fourth trip to Mt. Tom (Willey and Field too, although fifth time to these trails as I hadn’t hiked all three mountains together each time!). I forgot the steady climb of this section of trail. It’s just up, and up, and oh some more ups for your pleasure too.

On the return trip back to the trailhead, we really noticed how up the trail had been earlier in the day as coming down steeper sections in winter always seems more noticeable than summer. Mainly because all that crosses our minds is butt sledding and how that would be the most efficient way down. Having not ever hiked any of these trails in the winter months, everything felt much different as the entire landscape and external feeling is so varied from summer.

Spur Path to Mt. Tom

The spur to reach Mt. Tom is a quick 0.6 miles and nothing steep. There were MANY Gray Jay’s, more than I’ve ever seen at one time. On the way back down the spur path Alyssa and I decided to do a little game of “chase the elf”, apparently I’m an elf. Alter ego? I vote yes.

Next it was time to head toward Field and then Willey via the A-Z and Willey Range Trails. There are some hikes where more conversation is had with hiking buddies, and some where there is a lot of silence throughout the day. Christmas was a quieter day, and I used the time in the quiet woods to allow whatever wanted to come up to come up.

One thing that came up was how the different parts of my being find their “home” so to speak in different areas or during different activities. For example, my competitive/ex-competitive athlete side thrives in a gym setting (which I have to wrangle on occasion), my creative self thrives writing/painting/during solo dance parties in my apartment/during deep conversations/joyful movement, my intellectual (and neuroscience background) side really digs learning and being a mega-nerd on the science and the WHY, my intuitive side lives off synchronicities, and my soul lives off being in the mountains.

There are obviously other “self ingredients”, but these are ones I was pondering as I walked.

Looking into the Notch from Willey summit

The trail to Field is a “casual” climb and between Field and Willey is a bunch of rolling terrain, ups and downs.

I recalled a few areas between the peaks that offer some views, and the views on Christmas did not disappoint. Honestly they never disappoint, even when it’s dense fog, it’s still beautiful.

Somewhere along the Willey Range Trail
Somewhere else along the Willey Range Trail

We didn’t stay on any of the summits for too long, 5-10 minutes I’d say. I love hanging out at summits in the warmer months and sprawling myself out on a rock, but in winter I tend to get chilly rather quickly. While I do have a decent set up from a gear perspective, I’m slowly adding to my collection of *extra* warm layers and especially mittens with now working in the outdoor industry part-time (which is low-key dangerous for my wallet).

After summiting Willey, the trek out was just following the same path back. The trails were overall in good condition, some blow downs which are always fun to crawl under/over and you kind of feel like a kid again. We considered adding on Avalon (which really isn’t adding because it’s actually slightly less mileage to take that route out), but opted not to on this particular day. The steeper sections coming down were fun to run down and then challenge yourself to slow back down again, because momentum and gravity are totally a thing.

Staring down Washington from Willey

All in all, it was a wonderful day with great weather and stellar company. I’m giddy to have now hiked these three mountains in the Winter and to see the differences between snow covered vs. rocks and roots for these trails. The more I Winter hike, the more I fall in love with it.

Cheers to many Christmas hikes to come!

“We stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.” ― Herman Hesse

North Tripyramid & Middle Tripyramid – 12/22/19

Hi pals!

Can we just talk for a hot second about how it totally doesn’t feel like the end of December/Christmas… like at all. And 2020 is next week, what even is happening.

Mental note to actually sit down and type up my intentions for January, they currently live in my journal. I also added to my “fucket list” recently, I’ll share that too. Bucket lists are great and all, I have one, but the fucket list (things which you unsubscribe from/no longer serve you/aren’t positive for you) is where the magic is at.

View from Middle Tripyramid

So, the Tripyramids:

I had a love/hate relationship with these peaks until this hike. Fairly certain I’ll never hate a mountain, or hike, or trail. Never ever. But, the first attempt in February of 2017 with my friend Blaire didn’t go so hot, because it was far from hot out. We started off that day at a whopping zero degrees at the car and approached the hike with a “use our judgement” mentality. After reaching North Tri we called it and headed down as we were both colder than our comfort zone, the wind was whipping, food frozen, and slushy water. The following summer I hiked them with my friend Amy, which honestly, it was a great day full of mud and slugs and Amy telling me there were lots of steep spots. Fact, there are lots of steep spots on the Tri’s, I guess that’s why they are named the “TriPYRAMIDS”? I don’t recall anything negative from that trip, so I’m not sure why I still judged this hike a little harshly, sorry mountains, forgive me.

Sunday’s frolic was with a co-worker, Sue. We both live in the same town up North and had previously chatted about hiking together. I ended up having a Sunday with no plans/work, and with knowing Sue didn’t work Sunday’s, asked if she would want to hike. In the process of determining what to hike (most of the struggle, tbh), I sent three ideas: Osceolas, Willey Tom Field, the Tri’s. Sue picked the Tri’s.

Sandwich Range Wilderness sign

Our route : Pine Bend Brook Trail out and back; 9.6 miles and 3,450ft. elevation gain

There are a multitude of ways to hike the Tri’s: Pine Bend out and back, Sabbaday Falls out and back, a loop of Pine Bend and Sabbaday, the slides via Mt. Tripyramid Trail, etc. Pine Bend is arguably the easiest approach, especially in the Winter.

I’m fairly picky about who I’ll hike with in the Winter season, just from a safety perspective. Considering the temperature and forecast looked great Sunday and Pine Bend Brook was a familiar approach, I felt totally comfortable heading out with a new hiking buddy. And, glad to report we both had a great hike, get along well, and happily butt sledded (sans sleds, they will be packed next time…) down the mountain.

Little water crossing

The trail starts off fairly gently, meandering through the forest. There are a handful of small water crossings which were all easily navigated by rock hopping. About a mile or so into the hike, the climbing begins to increase as you get closer to the steeper spots on Pine Bend.

I vividly remember the steeper spots and butt sledding, on actual sleds, with Blaire. I live for these memories. The ridiculous shenanigans, deep belly laughs, pure joyous fun that is had in the middle of the woods. The memories are part of the reason I blog, I don’t ever want to forget what this all feels like. And I want to share in hopes to inspire others to get outside and have an adventure that is fulfilling for them.

Between the junction of Pine Bend Brook and Scaur Trail (told you many routes) and the summit of North Tri, Sue and I decided that I would continue on to grab Middle Tri which is 0.8 miles from North and then head back and we would link back up at either the summit of North or the junction with Scaur Trail if she got cold hanging at the summit. I wanted to grab Middle for the Winter 48 list, felt great, and needed to move fast for a bit to increase my body temperature. Sue didn’t care about the other summits and was perfectly content hanging, and the temperatures allowed for us to do this.

It’s great hiking with people whom decisions like the above can be logically made. Like using your head decisions. Those are the best, and they’re also uber important in the mountains, especially in winter. I feel like the theme of this post is: it’s winter and winter is different.

Post hike I ended up doing some reflection, per usual, and I was thinking about how besides my hike up Pierce on the 12/15, I haven’t hiked more than 5 miles or a 4000 footer in 7-ish weeks. Yet, I felt great. My legs a little tired but efficient, endurance not an issue, my body was happy. For me, this is a huge indication that hiking and longer endurance activity really is my thing. It works for me and it supports me. I’m still in awe that I can hike 9-20 miles and feel amazing. When I have moments like this reflection where I remember feeling lightheaded climbing a flight of stairs in 2012 during my relapse, it makes me so incredibly grateful for everything I have and am able to do. It makes me appreciate my body on a level that many people don’t and can’t understand.

I enjoyed the short period of full solitude between summits and then getting back to the trail junction. I haven’t done much winter hiking solo, actually only Mt. Willard two years ago (for those of you reading unfamiliar with NH mountains, this is a relatively small and easy hike!). This past summer was the most I solo hiked to date, and it was a nice change of pace to experience the complete isolation again. I see some winter solo hikes in my future, peaks I’m more familiar with on good weather days. Being alone in the wonderland of snow covered trees and silence felt different than being alone in the warmer months. I like both, for different reasons.

The winter, for connecting on a deep level with myself. The summer/warmer months, for challenging and pushing my limits and comfort zone. One serves my highly competitive and intrinsically motivated side whilst the other serves my intuitive and reflective side.

My favorite, no, my ego’s favorite comment of the day was that I run up the mountains. I don’t run, promise, only in summer and usually on flats or downhill rarely on the ups. This said, I did run/skip for a hot second between peaks. I literally cannot even begin to explain how at home I feel on trail. It’s literally Narnia for my soul.

My favorite comment of the day was when we were headed back to the car and came across a fellow hiker we had met earlier in the day on the ascent. Sue “lost” her hat on the way up and this hiker told us that it was on a tree with a blaze just before the steep section. Sue jokingly said to me something about it all being steep. Yes, I agree, there are many steeper sections on this hike (probably why my type 2 fun self had such a blast Sunday!). For the record, we did find her hat, and it was not on a blazed tree but rather the trailhead sign!

The Tri’s are no longer on the love/hate list, but the love list. These mountains feel like home. There is a sense of peace and fulfillment to my soul that I’ve never felt in any other realm of life. It’s the primary reason I moved North, I knew that I needed it for the next level of my own personal growth and healing. Everything makes sense. Everything feels whole. I feel safe.

XO, S.

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” ― Norton Juster

Mt. Pierce – 12/17/19

Hi folks!

Happy Tuesday! It might be Wednesday when you’re reading this, or a Monday in 2023 (because, you know, Google and such).

Today’s frolic up Pierce was another one for the books. It was only my hundredth hike up Pierce, just kidding, I think it was trip 14 though. Pierce is totally done for the “grid” at this point. Sadly, no its not, February 2020 trip up Pierce here I come!

Narnia-esque summit

I haven’t hiked a 4000 footer in about a month and a half. Honestly, it’s been great, and yet today was also very welcomed. I’ve been enjoying exploring local trail systems since moving, hiking some smaller but wonderful mountains, and focusing on spending time in nature and honoring my needs vs. spending time focusing on hiking bigger mountains.

Hibernation if you will.

I’ve low-key been wanting to “get back” to the bigger mountains for a couple weeks but knew it wasn’t the right time. I needed a little more time, rest, space, and patience with myself and where I’m at. One of my friends (hi A, I know you’re reading this) recently told me I’m one of the most introspective people she knows and how this is admired. This is hands down of the best compliments I’ve ever received. As someone with a deep inner world, I often find myself easily feeling like I don’t give enough attention to the external world, because it may seem like I don’t, when in reality I’m such a feeler, empath, highly sensitive human to all forms of stimulation. My brain and body take in EVERYTHING from the external world, even when it may seem from an observers eye that I don’t. The inner world is so important though because without it, without my awareness and attention to it, I would never have accomplished so many of the things that I have in life and would 100% not be on the path I’m currently on or living where I’m living. Hands down, the inner world gets priority as it makes me both a better human and a better version of myself.

This introspection, this knowing of myself and my process, it’s why I’ve been taking time to be slow and give more patience, grace, and love to where I’m finding myself currently. It’s also why I’m getting back into the “swing of things” so to speak.

Historically Winter had been my least favorite season. Ok, April is my least favorite season 😉 . It’s gray, cold, there is less daylight, people tend towards more stress, the Holiday’s are hectic, I have to wear pants (my least fave)… I could go on.

Lately I’ve been feeling a sense of calm on an internal level I’ve not ever felt. Today I felt this at an even stronger wavelength. While summer will remain my favorite time of the year to hike, Winter might be my favorite season. This calmness, it’s partly correlated with now living up North in the mountains, but there is something about being outside in the snow and listening only to hear nothing. There is nothing, but there is also everything. It’s a stillness that takes time to appreciate.

The frolic up Pierce today for example, it was actually snowing the entire hike as New Hampshire had a snowstorm pass today. Each time my friend Jared and I stopped to add/take off a layer, drink water, etc., I made note of the winter wonderland around me. Trees coated in fresh snow, the forest so quiet, the sound of snowflakes hitting my jacket and backpack, sounds of animals and birds in the distance, trickling water as some of the ice was melting, the wind blowing snow off trees.

I felt safe. I felt a deep connection to both the woods and my entire being. I felt at home.

This whole hiking thing has changed my life, as cliche as it sounds, it has.

Frozen like my braid

When I sat down to write this post I “planned” a typical hike recap, you know, telling you all about the hike itself versus my perception of the world which I experienced during the hike. But, as I’ve said before and will say again, the reason I write is for the process. I found myself quickly compelled to delve into a more emotional/spiritual direction, and that’s entirely okay.

This is something I’m working on currently, being okay with what might not be my usual M.O, because I’m growing and expanding at a rate internally that my own brain can’t always comprehend.

It’s part of my process.

Summit sign. We debated Washington for a split second.

If you were to ask me what some of my favorite things about hiking are, let’s go top 3 because otherwise I’ll go on a mega tangent, I’d say:

  1. I feel so at home in the mountains
  2. The connections and friendships with people I would not have otherwise met
  3. Connecting with nature and being so grateful to have this opportunity

On number 2, Jared and I had a conversation today that struck me as something to share. We were discussing how when we started hiking, we had no clue it would lead us to hiking 4000 footers in snowstorms in what is not technically Winter but very much Winter. We talked about how hiking is something that is so deeply connecting us to the mountains, nature, and other hikers. It has opened our eyes to other things too, like the environment and sustainability. I digress as I’d like to make a point:

If you told me 4 years ago I’d be doing this, I would have laughed.

If you told me 4 years ago I’d be living up North to pursue my own solopreneur life and be in the mountains I would have looked at you like you had great ideas but holy heck how would I even make this reality.

If you would have told me 7 years ago both of the above, I would have though to myself I’d probably be dead by then from my battle with anorexia.

The mountains change people. They changed me, and they saved me. Quite frankly, I’m going to allow them to continue to do both.

It’s a process.

“The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” ― Nancy Newhall

Kearsarge North – 11/23/19

Hi folks!

It’s been a month since I’ve blogged. Things… aka life, has been a smidge nuts. My brain is finally processing the fact that I’m done college (yippee!), my childhood home is sold, I’ve moved to the North, changed jobs (because of moving), and launched a business. There’ve been about a half-dozen other things too, but those are the big plot twists. During all of this happening between May and October, I was on a auto-pilot level I’ve never experienced before. My brain and body were going through all the motions seamlessly like a well oiled engine.

Great, right? Eh, during the hecticness, yes. At this point? Not so much. I’ve been in a mega funk the past two weeks and the whole November weather situation has not been helping. It’s so gray and cold and rainy here. Snow and cold – ok cool. Rain and cold – NO. If I were to try and explain how I feel as of late, it would probably go something like this: “emotionally and mentally heavy, physically drained, my stimulation threshold is about max, and I both want to do all of the things but also nothing at all simultaneously”. SOLID. I kind of feel like my brain is hibernating.

What did help… hiking Saturday. It’s been about three weeks since I’ve hiked and let me tell you all, I needed it more than I even recognized. Sure I’ve been getting outside for some local walks and even walks down my road (rural New Hampshire dirt road living perks), but there is something magical about the mountains. Magical and healing.

From the summit of Kearsarge North, looking at the Presidential Range

Since I began “seriously” hiking in 2016, the mountains and nature as a whole have helped me tremendously. Both from a mental health perspective and also just in listening to my gut and intuition as I proceed forward in life. Hiking is a process, just like life. It’s demanding, it requires focus and drive, it provides a space for processing and connecting both to nature and other hikers. Over the past few years, I would say hiking has taught me many life lessons and been the greatest asset in navigating life changes that I could possibly ask for.

I find the mountains provide me either with quiet time to process whatever I need to process or time to focus on the present moment and only that. Saturday’s hike was both – processing and intense present moment focus. I needed both.

In my natural habitat

Kearsarge North is a hike on the 52 with a view list, and while I’m no longer seriously pursuing hiking lists, I am seriously pursuing stellar hikes with great trails and views. I had hiked this mountain back in September so I knew it would be a good choice for Jared and myself Saturday.

Conditions? A mixed bag of October meets January or, as we called it, “Octobuary”… New Hampshire’s mountains newest month. Leaves at the base, some ice and frozen mud about a half mile to mile in, and then progressively more snow and ice (and ice and ice) nearing the summit. Microspikes were rather handy on this frolic.

Snow and ice and rock slabs
Nearing the summit

I foresee many many trips up Kearsarge in my future as it’s one of the more local mountains for me now. More local, because #mountainlife and the view from my window is Mt. Chocorua with a side view of George aka Mt. Washington. Grateful, grateful, grateful.

Something I noticed this time was a log book which hangs out in the summit tower. I had not seen this my previous trip up Kearsarge and was happy to add my own two cents. Jared added his thoughts too!

My favorite part of this hike is the section of trail through the woods just before the summit. I also enjoyed being in microspikes again and the crunching of snow and ice as I walked – it’s practically walking meditation. Second fave, the fire tower and its offering of views. I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to the trail, trees, scent of pine than the summit itself. Something about the process.

Tower views

This hike particularly reminded me of how blessed I am to live here, be able to hike these mountains (and stare at them from my window), have amazing hiking buddies who are really all full on friends at this point, and for the lessons nature has taught me and continues to teach me.

“I tried to discover, in the rumor of forests and waves, words that other men could not hear, and I pricked up my ears to listen to the revelation of their harmony.” ― Gustave Flaubert