Monday, January 25, 2016

Awkward Cannon

I've found a new reason to like three-day weekends. It makes it easier to squeeze in all the activities I enjoy. My company gives us every-other Friday off by working a modified work schedule. So what about the weekends where I do not get Friday off? There are only two days to pack in hiking, skiing and biking. That just means I have to double up some days!

I signed up for the Ski to the Clouds race in March. It is a 10k freestyle race that finishes at tree line on Mt Washington. I need to start working some intensity back into my routine. Bonus if it is on skis. Nordic skiing intensity trumps any other kind of intensity in my opinion, because a) it uses all the major muscle groups and b) it is weight bearing. So my weekend would be planned around skiing first, then other activities worked around skiing.

Local skiing has been marginal at best this winter. There's some pretty good skiing in Maine, but I spent way too much time in cars last weekend. I wanted to stay closer this weekend if possible. I settled on Waterville on Saturday. Reports said Tripoli Rd was in good shape. If I'm going for a workout, that is all that really matters. 20 minutes above threshold repeats up that 800ft beast quickly reduces all my muscles into quivering jelly. The grooming was flawless, but cover was very thin in most areas. After a couple repeats on kinder, gentler Livermore Rd (with one face plant from hitting a rock), I went over to the Tripoli Rd side. Three times up Tripoli finished me off nicely. Skied 50km with 4000ft of climbing.

There was still several hours of daylight left, and I was in the White mountains. There are several peaks I've yet to visit. I just so happened to have all my hiking gear in the car. Uh-huh.  I sort of hiked up Cannon Mtn before. It was during the Franconia Sufferfest race. The race started at the Franconia Inn, climbed via XC trails to the base of Cannon Mountain ski area, then straight up the alpine ski slope. Did the organizers really think we could ride up that? I thought it would be very difficult, bordering physically impossible. Turns out the winner, and myself finishing second, hike-a-biked 99.99% of the climb. Does that count as "officially" hiking Cannon? No, but I'll say lugging a 25lb bike up to the top is way harder than hiking with a pack. So I hopped in the car after skiing and headed north on I-93 instead of south to go home.

In the tram parking lot, I realized I forgot several items when I left in haste that morning. Such as dry street clothes when I was done for the day and my micro spikes. The clothes, meh. Spikes? SOB! I did bring my snowshoes just in case. I had never hiked in snowshoes before, despite buying a pair almost a year ago. Guess there has to be a first time at some point. I did not put them on right away. As I walked to the trail head, a small group had just finished hiking the Kinsman Ridge Trail from the summit. They said I'll want snowshoes the whole way up. 

Have you ever put swimming fins on and try to walk with them? That is how I felt when I first strapped the shoes to my boots. Awkward, to say the least. Took several stops to get them adjusted right too.  I knew this hike would be steep, but I really underestimated the impact of steepness hiking with snowshoes for the first time. There were tight rock squeezes, occasional root catches, big step-ups, icy sections, all manner of  hazards that wouldn't have even registered if I had brought my microspikes. To be sure, most people coming down had snowshoes on, but one couple did not. The guy (husband?) jokingly warned me, saying "watch out, she'll take you down like a bowling pin." Haha. 

Not only did I tangle myself up in tight spots, I found the snowshoes offered poor grip on ice compared to my microspikes. One thing I found very helpful though, was the heel lift option. Used it right from the bottom. That surely saved me from calf and Achilles grief. I thought this four mile hike should be easy to bang out in less than 2hrs, but now finishing with lights was looking probable. Perhaps the descent would be much less problematic.

Once I got part way up, the stream of people coming down stopped. I had amazing views all to myself from the ledge and the summit observation deck. I had to take the snowshoes off to negotiate the stairs. How do you think that worked out with the steps completely filled in with ice? Yep, yard sale on the way back down. Glad I was at least holding the railing. It was so slick I chose to slide down the rest of the steps on my ass. After gathering my scattered shoes and poles on the landing, I thought hard about maybe just hiking down a ski run. It was almost 4pm and the lifts would stop shortly. Where would the glory be in that though?

As I headed down, I learned the mountain get even steeper!  I found the snowshoes a bit terrifying in spots. It has stayed cold since last snowfall and the snow wasn't set up yet. The shoes acted like skis in spots.  The steepness combined with always loading feet at a downward angle meant huge tension in the knees too. My knees do not take kindly to that abuse. I'm pretty sure my time going down was just as long if not longer than my moving time hiking up. So much for making up time on the way back down.

I made it back to the car well past sunset, within minutes of needing the light, without any carnage. Not sure what to make of hiking in snowshoes. I felt vulnerable the whole time, like I could catch on something and blow a knee out.  Perhaps with more snow cover and experience, that uneasiness will go away. I did notice most folks had narrower, lighter duty snowshoes. That would be worth looking into for when trail is already broken out. Anyway, the hike was thoroughly satisfying, finishing the day with 6600ft climbing on snow.

White canopy heading up Kinsman Ridge Trail from the Tramway parking lot

Trees getting stubby approaching 4000ft on Kinsman Ridge Trail

Franconia Ridge from Cannon Cliffs

Looking down I-93 from Cannon Cliffs. Massive snowstorm was brewing
further down the east coast. Sunny north of the Notch

Calm, cold and sunny with Mt Layfayette from Cannon Cliffs

Approaching summit of Cannon Mtn

Looking south(ish) into the low sun at the Cannon Balls and the Kinsmans from
Cannon Mtn observation deck

Franconia Ridge from Cannon observation deck

Kinsman Ridge Trail above Cannon Cliffs heading back down

Sun setting with 700ft of vertical drop back to car

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What's All This List Stuff Anyhow?

Year's ago, I used to read a column by Bob Pease that was always titled "What's all this ____ stuff, anyhow?" where the blank was filled with the month's topic. Topics were often about engineering methods or approaches where there were different camps of thought. Pease was also a bit of a curmudgeon, skeptical of computer modelling and the internet. His favorite programming language? Solder. Yes, that means build a piece of electronic hardware and see if it works or not. Pease also enjoyed the outdoors and wrote about hikes in the northeast.

In 2015, I got turned on to hiking. There are vast areas of New England that cannot be  reached by bike. You have to go in by foot. 3000ft net gain climbs galore? I'm into that. The rhythm of hiking differs from cycling, or even skate skiing for that matter. It is slower, yet it can demand much cardio fitness when going up 60% grades. It is very easy to slip into a flow state while hiking.

You meet a lot of interesting people on the trail. Reasons that draw people to the trail are diverse. Invariably, it seems everybody is working on one list or another. So what's all this list stuff, anyhow?

Shortly after moving to New Hampshire in 1997, I became aware of the 4000 footers list. There are 48 peaks that are above 4000ft elevation and have 200ft prominence. I knew people working on this list. Planned hikes were based on what they "needed," which meant a peak they haven't "bagged" yet. I thought this was kind of arbitrary. Why not 1000 meters or 5000ft? Guess the list would be too long or too short then.  48 peaks is a number most fit people could achieve in a reasonable amount of time.

What spiked my interest in hiking was an invite to do the Presidential Range traverse in a day. My wife and I plan to move out west some day and I wanted to experience the Presi traverse before moving.  This is a more serious undertaking than hitting one or two peaks in a single hike, as the Presi traverse entails upwards of 20 miles of rugged terrain and 10,000ft of climbing. During the traverse, new terms were learned. One was redlining. A couple we crossed paths with multiple times were "redlining." I wondered, was this like going all-out, like redlining an auto engine? Hmmm. Then Soups explained it to me. You take an AMC trail map, not any particular one, then hike every single trail on it, highlighting in red as you complete them. This means dead-ends to outhouses, spurs to outlooks, every trailhead, etc. That is dedication. Probably looks pretty impressive when complete and worth framing. There was also a runner out there that day doing a double Presi-traverse in a single day. Was he going for the FKT? Fastest Known Time was another term I did know before I started hiking.

Now that it is winter, I learned there is a "Winter 48" list. So hiking the 48 4000-footers when it is nice out isn't enough. Now you have to do them between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Additional gear is needed. Traction devices like micro-spikes, crampons or snowshoes. Or survival items, like extra dry layers, emergency shelter, etc. Parts of the White mountains have the worst weather on Earth and people regularly die in the Whites.

But wait, there's more. There's The Grid.  Why not hike all 48 4kers in every month of the year? That is 12x48=576 peaks to bag. Many have completed it. One of the last hikes I did up to the Twins, I met two people up top. They asked if I was a "Gridder." Fortunately I had already learned what that was and didn't look like a complete idiot. Surely I must have been a gridder, hiking up there solo after the trailhead gates had been locked, on a wintry day. I told them I wasn't sure I was pursuing any list. They replied they were passive gridders themselves, but they had completed about half of the grid. That doesn't sound all that passive to me...

I learned rules go along with these lists too. For example, some hikes it is possible to ride a bike part way in, say to the wilderness boundary. But no, that doesn't count. You must hike all the way in from a legitimate trailhead. Soups pointed this one out to me when I mentioned I was going to bike/hike to Owl's Head. You can do that, but then you can't claim Owl's Head on your 48 list. So I toughed out those extra 5 miles on foot. Can't say why, as I'm still not sure if I'll hike all 4000 footers or not.

There are many other lists people are chasing, like the Hundred Highest, Fifty Finest, Trailwrights 72, etc. Everybody has their reasons. One person I met said hiking was like therapy and the list provided focus and motivation to keep it going. Some do it for bragging rights, I'm sure. I suspect others become enslaved by lists. There was a very good discussion thread on Views from the Top forum a while back.

And if humans pursing lists weren't enough, there are lists for canines too. That adds another dimension to figuring out what hike to hit next. What do I need? What does Fido need? Then try to coordinate with friends and their dogs and what they need. Gets pretty complicated.

My first reaction to all these lists was it is pretty silly. But then I realized I have been chasing a list myself for a long time: Mountain biking in all 50 states.  I am two states away from completing my list, Mississippi and Louisiana yet to be colored in. I use this goal of riding dirt in each state as a way to see parts of the country I wouldn't normally get to see and experience diversity in riding terrain our country offers. So yeah, I can relate to hikers pursuing lists. I am not a slave to my list. I've been working on it for 15+ years. I let opportunity work in my favor. Work travels have helped me "bag" many states. Wife wants to go to Hawaii? Sure. Bike is coming along. I also don't avoid going to states I've already biked in in favor of hitting a state I "need." Case in point, I go to Arizona or Utah every spring. Riding there that time of year is just too friggin awesome to pass up for a less awesome place because I haven't bagged it yet.

Anyway, I've maintained a detailed log since 2001. I used to call it my training log. I don't really train for specific events anymore. It is an activity log. My activities are more therapy than training these days. My 2015 activity pie chart looks much different in years past. Road cycling hours continue to diminish, mountain biking hours increase, and then a large new slice shows up with hiking. I wonder how this will evolve in 2016?

2015 saw the most aerobic activity hours I've ever logged in a year, almost 750. I strive for 600hrs, what I feel is the minimum therapeutic benefit threshold. The big increase is due mostly to hiking. Even taking hiking out of the picture, I still would have had over 600hrs. Not sure 750 is sustainable going forward, so something else will have to give a little, especially if I attempt a Pemi Loop in 2016...