Friday, October 29, 2010

Mother and son hike the AT: the son’s story

“I thought it would be fun.” That was Owen Borek’s first reaction to hearing his mother’s plan to hike the Appalachian Trail, all 2,170-some miles of it, over one spring-summer-fall. “I liked hiking,” says the 10-year-old from Durham, N.H. He knew about the outdoors: He’d hiked a few mountains and camped out several times. And he was strong, having played on several sports teams. Owen and his mother were already together most of the day, anyway, because he was home-schooled.

My previous post described how Owen and Cheryl Borek made it to the summit of Mount Katahdin on September 23, after hiking the trail in three “flip-flop” sections. Here’s how Owen sums up the hike now, one month after leaving the trail: “Most of it was fun.” He also says, “I learned a lot.”

Along the way, Owen learned the difference that vertical gain made in the distance they could cover. On the second section of the hike, when he and his mother hiked south from Pennsylvania to Georgia, they began to cover 20 miles and more on the flats. “Virginia was a lot of flat,” Owen says. Then they hit the Smoky Mountains: “One day, all we did was 7 miles of up.” Even after months on the trail, steep meant slow: In all of the White Mountains, Owen and his mother managed only one 20-mile day.

Owen chose “Scooter” for his trail name, because that’s what he was called by an older relative who couldn’t remember Owen’s real name. His mother went by “4:13,” after the New Testament verse in Philippians: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Another lesson that Owen learned: “the kindness of strangers.” Early on, Scooter and 4:13 met up with Etch-a-Sketch, “a really nice guy” in his early twenties who hiked with the mother-and-son team for nearly 1,000 miles. Over those miles, Etch-a-Sketch went from stranger on the trail to friend. The boy and young man found plenty to do together, from cooling off under waterfalls to cleaning out fire pits. (“I’d get into camp and just want to crawl into my sleeping bag and read a book, and they’d find some vines and be swinging on them like George of the Jungle,” Cheryl Borek says.)

Other strangers remained nameless but nonetheless reached out to help the mother-and-son hikers. Owen remembers one couple he and his mother met going the other way on the trail just out of the Smokies. They needed to get into town for a resupply but didn’t want to hitchhike. The couple gave a boy they knew only as “Scooter” and a woman called “4:13” the keys to their car, a brand new Lexus. Owen and his mother walked to the trailhead, found the car, and drove to town for their errands.

A further lesson: confidence and safety. Owen was comfortable on the trail from the start, confident as a hiker and a camper, and nimble climbing up rocks. Cheryl struggled more with injuries. In the White Mountains, she took a tumble, falling head over heels off the trail, banging one leg pretty badly. She felt her son’s concern for her during the rest of the trip. After her fall, she says, “he wasn’t afraid for himself, but he was afraid for me.”

Now that he’s back home, Owen notices different ways that his weeks on the trail are making a difference. He returned home too late for fall soccer, but hockey started a couple of weeks ago. “It’s easier to skate now,” he says. He also see that he can spend more time on the ice, and skate harder longer, before his thighs start to burn.

He’s had to readjust, a little, to the normal dynamics of family life, including doing school assignments at a desk. Owen is writing a book about his adventure on the Appalachian Trail. He plans to go over the geography of each section. He’ll describe climbing Katahdin, Mt. Washington, his friendship with Etch-a-Sketch, who turns out to live only a short distance away from Owen’s family. The three thru-hikers plan to get together soon at a local pizza place that they “drooled about” while they were eating Ramen noodles on the trail.

Owen’s advice for kids who might be interested in hiking the trail: “Take your time. Start early.”

What’s next? “We’re thinking of a long-distance biking trip,” Owen says — or he might come up with his own hiking route through the Shenandoahs.

All photos by Cheryl Borek.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thru-Hiking with a 10-Year-Old

On September 23, 2010, Cheryl Borek stood on the summit of Mt. Katahdin, joining the select society of hikers who complete all 2,170 or so miles of the Appalachian Trail in one hiking season. Two years ago, Cheryl had decided that she wanted to hike the AT before she turned 50. She’d beaten her deadline by two years.

She didn’t stand on the summit alone. She had walked every step of the trail with her 10-year-old son, Owen. During their six months together on the trail, the two had been trail partners as well as mother and son — coping with heat, cold, rain, and minor injuries and also sharing in the friendships and joys of the long journey.

Cheryl first learned about the Appalachian Trail as a teenager in her school’s outing club. She thought then that it would be fun to hike from Georgia to Maine. But after graduating from college, where she played hockey and soccer, and marrying, she spent most of the following two decades focused on her growing family. Seven years ago, when she moved to Durham, N.H., with her husband, a hockey coach, and their four children, the family had never taken an overnight camping trip. Cheryl organized easy day hikes, then one-day climbs of Monadnock and Moosilauke.

Two years ago, Cheryl realized that, between graduations and other family obligations, 2010 was her best shot at hiking the Appalachian Trail. She researched gear and read everything she could find about the trail. The family hiked more often, and camped overnight in the Whites.

As Cheryl began planning seriously for a six-month hike, she was also home-schooling Owen, her youngest child. He told her that he’d like to hike the trail, too. Cheryl talked to Owen about what it meant to hike more than 2,000 miles. “I told him, ‘You won’t see your friends for months. You don’t have to do this.’” But Owen’s interest didn’t flag. Mother and son decided to hike the trail together. Planning now included how they’d incorporate Owen’s schoolwork into the trip.

Scheduling the hike around several family events meant that Cheryl didn’t plan their route straight north from Georgia or south from Maine, but as a “flip-flop,” starting in the middle — an approach used by only about 5 percent of thru-hikers. In early April, Cheryl and Owen started in Pennsylvania, hiking north. They were accompanied by Owen’s 14-year-old brother, Charley, who joined the trailside school for a month. At 375 miles, in Kent, Connecticut, the school year was officially over: Cheryl’s husband, Scott, took up home duty for the summer, and Charley left the trail to his mother and brother. Three weeks later, they reached Mt. Moosilauke in plenty of time to celebrate middle son Gordie’s graduation from Cardigan Mountain School.

After the family reunion, Cheryl and Owen returned to their starting point and headed the other direction, to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, Georgia. They struggled with the heat, sometimes getting up several hours before dawn to hike during the coolest part of the day. They mailed their down sleeping bags and warm clothes home — only to hit a cold snap the next night and need their sleeping bags sent back to them. Still, they whittled down the weight they carried on their backs until Owen carried only 22 pounds plus water, Cheryl 32 pounds.

Their mileage picked up, too. In the Shenandoahs, they started “pulling 20s,” hiking 20 and more miles a day. Owen flourished. In the evenings, he often had energy to spare, when Cheryl just wanted to crawl into her sleeping bag with a book. Schoolwork helped pass the time on the trail. Cheryl quizzed Owen on his multiplication tables and state capitals. Every night, he wrote in a journal. He also figured out their daily mileage and tracked their weekly average. “He definitely learned his decimals,” Cheryl says.

It wasn’t only Cheryl and Owen who were learning new lessons. Scott had three teenagers at home during the summer — “the harder job,” according to Cheryl. Bemused mom occasionally took cell phone calls from her 17-year-old daughter, Madeline. “She’d say, ‘Mom! There’s no food in the house.’ I’m standing there on the trail, telling her I was sure she could figure something out.”

Mother and son took another short break after reaching Springer Mountain. In August, they returned again to Moosilauke for the final hike to Katahdin. Months on the trail had formed a strong working partnership between them. “We made decisions together,” Cheryl says. “Owen would say, ‘Let’s do 20 miles today so we can get pizza.’”

They hit the White Mountains as summer turned to fall. Trails steepened, passed above treeline. “We’d say, ‘This is hard.’” But the investment they’d already made in their goal helped them persevere. On a “gloriously clear” day, mother and son stood on Katahdin’s summit, arms held high over their hands, two wide grins on their faces.

One month after their return, Cheryl says, “It was a wonderful experience for both of us.” Owen’s siblings missed their little brother and show new respect for his achievement. They show new appreciation for their mother, too. When Cheryl looks at Owen now, she sees how much confidence he’s gained.

Cheryl has simple advice for families who think they’d like to hike the trail together: “Don’t be afraid of it. Carve out the time to do it. You won’t regret it.”

Learn more
- Cheryl and Owen Borek read books by Earl Shaffer, the AT's first thru-hiker, and A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson's hilarious tale of attempting the Appalachian Trail.
- The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a volunteer organization dedicated to maintaining and preserving the 2,175-mile trail.

All photos courtesy Cheryl Borek: On the summit of Katahdin. The first 100 miles. Signing the summit register at Springer Mt., Georgia. Halfway.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Late Season at the High Huts

This weekend marks the end of the full-service high huts season. Madison Spring Hut and Lakes of the Clouds closed their doors to guests last month until the new season begins in 2011. After Saturday night, October 16, Mizpah Spring, Galehead, and Greenleaf will do the same.

Beginning next week, Zealand and Lonesome Lake will join Carter Notch (at 3,288 feet the highest of the winter-season huts) in the self-service season. Guests can still bed down in the huts’ bunks and use the kitchens, but must pack in their food. Hut croos are replaced by winter caretakers.

We felt the lateness of the season last weekend, over the Columbus Day holiday, when Jim, Ursula, and I hiked up to Mizpah Spring Hut with friends Chris and Patty and their daughters Sarah and Rita. The four of them had reservations for two nights and designs on the summits of Pierce, Eisenhower, and Jackson.

We’d tried too late for our reservations. Even though the weather report at the Highland Center at Crawford Notch called for winds gusting to 75 miles per hour over the summits and temperatures at tree line 5 to 10 degrees on either side of zero with wind chill, we still couldn’t get off Mizpah’s wait list. Instead, we joined them for the hike in.

Twelve-year-old Ursula has long enjoyed her position as the “middle girl” in this long-standing trio: Sarah just started high school, Rita middle school. The three girls share an ease in the outdoors, a love of books and language, and a goofy sense of humor. Ursula is always happy to meet up with Rita and Sarah, even if it’s only for a two-and-a-half mile hike on a cold and windy day — and especially when her younger brother (who stayed behind for a friend’s birthday and overnight) isn’t getting in her way.

The three girls took off quickly up the Crawford Path and stayed just around the next bend most of the way. Protected from the wind by the forest, we were warmer on the trail than we’d been in the parking lot. Too soon, we arrived at the hut, but ready to warm up with hot chocolate and tea. While the girls played cutthroat games of cards, the adults talked, warming ourselves again with long friendships formed and sustained in the outdoors.

Then it was time for the three of us to head back down the trail. We were on the highway, driving home, with the heater blowing hot air to Ursula in the back seat, when night fell. Before we’d said good-bye to Chris and Patty and Sarah and Rita, though, we’d schemed about next year’s hikes. One of our promises: to plan further ahead for hut reservations.

Learn more
- Information about Mizpah Spring Hut.
- Explore AMC’s hut and lodging options online.
- “Trail of Years,” a history of the Crawford Path by Madeleine Eno (AMC Outdoors, April 2000). Crawford Path is considered the oldest continuously maintained trail in the country.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Leaf Play

I have been younger in October / than in all the months of spring.

Those lines come from a poem by current U.S. poet laureate W. S. Merwin, who must have spent some time playing in autumn leaf piles, as we did last weekend.

Friends invited us to spend the day with them while they closed up a summer place. Our two children mixed in with six others, ranging in age from a toddler to a high schooler.

It didn’t take long for the eight children to focus on the leaves that had fallen around two grand sugar maples in the front yard. At first the adults chatted near the porch, parents keeping loose watch on the running, shouting kids. But then something changed. I heard no orders, saw no leader, but the children had moved from random play to organized play. Out came rakes, followed by two bright orange sleds, repurposed as leaf carriers.

The leaf pile grew until I could barely see the top of three-year-old Ana Luisa’s head on the other side. The children scouted for leaves in an ever-wider circle, bulking out the pile. Finally, the younger ones couldn’t hold off any longer. Ana and five-year-old Caroline jumped in first. Virgil gave the Hi-ya! yell he’s learned at karate and dove in after them. Then it was a free-for-all — a tangle of legs and arms and the occasional head popping up out of the middle amid whirling leaves and giddy laughter.

When the leaves had scattered too widely to tunnel into, the children pushed them back into a pile and jumped in again. This went on for a long time. The children were intent on their tasks. They filled the sleds, carried them, dumped them. They measured the height of the pile and coached each other in holding off from jumping in until it was time. The older ones kept the young ones safe, calling out and even pulling bodies apart if they threatened to collide with too much force.

Mother of Ana and two boys, Jessie Griffiths is an educator who believes in the value of unstructured play. Watching next to me, she said, “This is what happens when we give kids time to play.” They often arrive at a common purpose, working together and learning while they play.

The older kids moved on to climbing the trees. Charlie, age 15, wrapped his legs around a branch on one of the maples and hung upside down. Ursula and her friend Gray walked their bare feet up the deeply furrowed and rough bark of its neighbor and settled into high perches. Caroline and six-year-old Cole wanted to follow the older ones. They clung to the lowest branches before dropping gratefully into parents’ arms.

In the same poem, Merwin writes “the day is yet one more yellow leaf.”

I’m glad we had this one.

Photo credits: Kate Harrison.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Abecedary of Rocks and Ice

An alphabetical introduction to the geology of the White Mountains

The research for Dykstra Eusden's recently published book on the geology of the Presidential Range was built up over time. For more than a decade, the Bates College professor set up geology field camp near Randolph, N.H. "Understanding geology," Eusden says, "means understanding what you see in the field." Rocks in roadside cuts, along trails, or on summits "give you the beginning of a story."

Geology at its best, like great literature, touches deep and fundamental stories about existence and time. In his classes, Eusden makes the length of a room stand for the age of the earth, then describes different epochs in geologic time as he walks across the room. "The Presidential Range doesn't even appear until I'm four-fifths of the way across the floor," he says. "My nose is about a centimeter from the wall when mammals first appear on earth." Geologic time is "so immense it's almost unfathomable."

Telling the story of geologic time through the rocky summits and rounded river valleys of the White Mountains fascinated Eusden's students and his children. In fact, his two sons joined him in Randolph from young ages. The boys became so good at recognizing different types of rocks that they could teach new field staff.

This alphabet is drawn from Eusden's book, The Presidential Range: Its Geologic History and Plate Tectonics; and an earlier regional guidebook, Roadside Geology of Vermont and New Hampshire, by Bradford Van Diver. Each letter tells a short story of the geology of the White Mountains.

Acadian. The name given to a mountain-building phase between 335 and 380 million years ago that resulted in most of the metamorphic rocks in New Hampshire, including some in the White Mountains. The Acadian mountain-building phase also is considered by some geologists to coincide with the collision of the ancestral North American and African continents.

The White Mountain batholith is a large "igneous intrusive body," meaning that the rock within it was formed by lava or magma being squeezed upward from the planet's hot mantle.

Cirque. A U-shaped amphitheater formed by a glacier at its head, with steep sidewalls. Known locally as gulfs or ravines. See Tuckerman Ravine, Huntington Ravine, Great Gulf, Madison Gulf, and Gulf of Slides.

Drift. Glacial deposits of sediment. See the Connecticut River Valley.

Erratic. A large boulder, not native to its current, often unlikely, location, and transported there by glacier. See the "rocking" erratic on Mount Potash or the curiously balanced Glen Boulder on the western flank of Pinkham Notch.

Freeze-thaw cycle. Boulder fields are created by the cycle of freezing and thawing, breaking apart even hard granites and schist. The sharply pointed peaks of Franconia Ridge are the result of their glacially rounded peaks being shattered and sharpened by the freeze-thaw process.

Granite. Igneous rock visible everywhere in the White Mountains. See Mount Chocorua for fine examples of Conway granite, a pretty pink granite of the White Mountain batholith.

The name of the long narrow lake formed by glacial melt about 15,000 years ago. At its longest, Lake Hitchcock extended 200 miles from Connecticut to St. Johnsbury, Vt. The Connecticut River now runs through the valley.

Ice Age.
The Ice Age in North America began more than 2 million years ago and ended only about 6000 years ago. The White Mountains show the marks of the most recent stage, the Wisconsin glaciation.

Joints. In geology, joints are fractures in rocks. Basalt dikes were formed when magma pushed into these joints.

Kinsman Notch. Kinsman Notch contains several points of geologic interest, including Agassiz basin, named for one of the first scientists to understand that massive ice sheets once covered the northern hemisphere, and Lost River Gorge, sculpted by glaciers.

Littleton schist and quartzite.
The tough rocks that form the steep summits of the Presidential Range come from the complex Littleton formation, "igneously metamorphosed" rocks. Also see Glen Ellis Falls, which tumbles over an escarpment of hard Littleton schist.

Moat Mountain.
Moat volcanic deposits derive their name from this mountain; a good place to view the rocks that once formed a continuous blanket over central New Hampshire thousands of feet deep.

New Hampshire. According to some plate-tectonics geologists, New Hampshire is "exotic terrain"—a former slice of the continental crust that once belonged to what is now Africa. It became stuck to the edge of the North American continent during the creation of Pangaea and, like all immigrants, became modified in the process.

Ocean. A proto-Atlantic ocean existed to the west of the White Mountains 450 to 650 million years ago. It slowly closed over the next several hundred million years. The Atlantic Ocean we know today began about 150 million years ago as a long narrow sea.

Pangaea. The super-continent that existed at the end of the Paleozoic era. Pangaea contained all the continents we know today, fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Pangaea began to break up during the Triassic period, about 200 million years ago. The Connecticut River Valley was formed during an early part of the continental stretch.

When glaciers sliding over the White Mountains scratched the rock in the direction of their travel, scratches remained in the quartz, a hard mineral embedded in the granite rock. See Edmonds Col between Mount Madison and Mount Adams.

The Mount Washington Auto Road offers splendid places to view vast expanses of geologic time. See plate tectonics at work in the folded rocks at Cragway Springs.

Sedimentary layering. Marine sediments—the remains of small animals and plants, and the silt of an ocean floor—were laid down over hundreds of millions of years. These layers were altered under intense pressure and heat and became the basis of many of the rocks found in the White Mountains.

Talus. The large talus slope at the base of Cannon Cliff is an excellent example of rockfall debris accumulation resulting from the freeze-thaw process.

Upland. The New England upland is a broad plateau that rises gently inland from the sea. The White Mountains rise abruptly from this plateau.

Volcanic action occurred at several crucial points in the formation of New England and the White Mountains: during the continental collision between what would become the North American and African continents; and again about 175 million years ago, when the continents split apart.

Wisconsin glaciation.
During the high point of the Wisconsin glaciation, about 20,000 years ago, ice sheets reached down to the current site of New York City and into Long Island Sound. All of New England lay buried under a mile or more of ice.

eXfoliation. Exfoliation is a type of jointing, sometimes described as the slow peeling of a rock onion. See Whitehorse and Cathedral Ledges for good examples of exfoliation.

Young geologists. On the way to the White Mountains, young geologists and their families may also enjoy touring the glacial boulders at Polar Caves Park in Rumney, N.H.; collecting minerals at Ruggles Mine in Grafton, N.H.; or visiting the Montshire Museum in Norwich, Vt., where an exhibit on "The Dynamic Earth" runs through November.

Zealand Notch. An example of an ice-gouged valley, formed during the Wisconsin glaciation.

Learn more
- The Presidential Range: Its Geologic History and Plate Tectonics by Dykstra Eusden. The booklet includes a detailed geologic map of the range. Professor Eusden is donating all proceeds from the sale of The Presidential Range to the Bruce Bouley Fund for geology field studies.
- Roadside Geology of Vermont and New Hampshire by Bradford Van Diver is no longer in print, but is still available for purchase.
- More information on plate tectonics from the USGS and on general topics in geology from the University of Tromso, Norway.

Photo credits: N. Wert for Flume Gorge, NH; Ellie Hamilton for summit rocks on Mt. Jackson, NH.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Final 2 (and a Bonus 2): Hiking through Yankee’s Top 25 Towns for Foliage

This is the last in a series devoted to Yankee magazine’s list of the “Top 25 Towns for Foliage” in New England. Yankee used 14 different measures to come up with its list. I sorted one of those rankings, the hiking category, and created the “Great Kids, Great Outdoors Top 10 Towns for Fall Hikes.”

Nine of the towns in Yankee’s list received the top score, 5, for hiking. The final two from that group come from different parts of New England — one southern, one northern — and offer different outdoor experiences.

Williamstown, Massachusetts.
“The ultimate college town,” Yankee calls Williamstown, ranked fourth on its Top 25 list, “sheltered in the arms of Massachusetts’ highest mountain.” That is Mt. Greylock, officially listed in the town of Adams. If you’re in the Berkshires, it’s nearly impossible not to be pulled into Williamstown’s orbit. Walk around the town and visit the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The art museum makes itself accessible to families, with kids’ activities inside and easy trails on its 140-acre campus — and geocaching, too! You don’t have to go far to find other trails, as well. According to Yankee, the favorite hike of Williams College students is “the two-mile pitch to Pine Cobble, a quartzite outcropping with a panoramic view of ‘the Purple Valley’ and church spires below.” The Appalachian Trail crosses the town boundary twice, at its southeast edge and again to its north.

Rangeley, Maine. “The lakes of Maine’s western mountains hold up a succession of mirrors to some of the state’s best fall foliage,” says Yankee. This watery focus extends to the best activities for families in the Rangeley area. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail traverses the Rangeley Lakes, and many other shorter flatwater paddle trips are possible for families who bring their own gear and those who want to rent.

Last but not least, here are two towns I'll call tied for 10th place in the "Great Kids, Great Outdoors Top 10 Towns for Fall Hikes" list. Both towns combine water with elevation — a perfect fall combination — and both, in my opinion, offer great fall walks and hikes for children and families.

Camden, Maine. “The view from the forested slopes of Mount Battie straight down to the forest of masts in Camden Harbor is one of the most dramatic in New England — and never more beautiful than in fall,” says Yankee. In addition to Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park, other recommended hikes are Mount Megunticook and Bald Rock Mountain.

Sandwich, New Hampshire. Yankee gave Sandwich four points in the hiking category, but Sandwich is at the center of some of the best hiking for families in the Northeast. The peaks of the Squam Range rise above the bays and islands of Squam Lake, offering spectacular views after only one or two miles of hiking. The hike to the top of West Rattlesnake is a classic first hike for many children. Or visit the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. Sandwich is also the location for the final country fair of the season in New Hampshire. The Sandwich Fair celebrates 100 years this year over Columbus Day weekend.

Learn more
Read “The Top 25 Foliage Towns in New England (and Thus the World!)” (Yankee magazine, September/October 2010); some information on Yankee's website.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Ski Town 4: Hiking through Yankee's Top 25 Towns for Foliage

Yankee magazine this month ranked the “Top 25 Towns for Foliage” in New England, based on 14 different measures. I sorted the magazine’s rankings on the Hiking category and created the “Great Kids, Great Outdoors Top 10 Towns for Fall Hikes.”

My previous post covered the Top 3 towns, which were the same in both the Great Kids, Great Outdoors and Yankee lists. With this post, I depart from Yankee’s list, bringing together towns ranked 6, 7, 10, and 13 under another shared category: Waitsfield, VT; N. Conway, NH; Waterville Valley, NH; and Stowe, VT are all well-known ski towns. All make fine fall hiking destinations.

Waitsfield, Vermont.
Waitsfield is nestled in a narrow valley between Green Mountain ranges. The Mad River, which gives the valley and the “ski it if you can” resort their names, runs right through the walkable downtown. High on the valley’s western flank, Vermont’s Long Trail has been celebrating its centennial in 2010. Hike north from Appalachian Gap (take Route 17 out of Waitsfield past the turnoff to Mad River Glen, and get on the trail where it crosses the road) and follow the Long Trail 1.3 miles over the east slope of Baby Stark Mt. and the rounded summit of Molly Stark Mt. to Molly Stark’s Balcony. “Here there is a fine view of Camel’s Hump and the intervening peaks,” says the Long Trail guidebook, but the poetry is in the name of the destination.

Conway and North Conway, New Hampshire.
North Conway is home to Cranmore Ski Resort and the traditional gateway to the White Mountains’ northern ski areas. In the early days, “ski trains” arrived here carrying hundreds of skiers north out of Boston and southern New England. Trains still run, but they’re now best ridden in the fall. “There may be no better way to see foliage than by train,” write Yankee’s editors. “The Conway Scenic Railroad is just the ticket, wending its way through White Mountain clefts and over trestles lit by the colors of fall.” Yankee also recommends the short hike to Diana’s Baths. But to get a sense of the wide range of outdoor activities available to families in the Conway area, look through AMC’s fall itineraries based out of Pinkham Notch, only a dozen miles north of the crowded shopping strip along North Conway’s Route 16.

Just 10 minutes up the road, the town of Jackson, tied for Yankee’s 12th spot and best known for its cross-country ski trails, offers quieter diversions. Try the one-mile walking tour through town.

Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. Both the town and the ski area of the same name are tucked into a classic U-shaped glacial valley in the south-central part of the White Mountain National Forest. You can see nearby Tripyramid and Osceola peaks from the town square. For a classic fall family hike, turn off Route 49 before you approach the ski area and follow the signs to the Welch-Dickey loop trail. No need to hike over both peaks: Just walking a single mile to the broad overlook below Welch’s summit, for a two-mile roundtrip, will delight even the most reluctant hiker.

Stowe, Vermont. “It’s hardly off the beaten track,” admits Yankee. The town’s white-steepled churches and red barns have long marked Stowe as picturesque, iconic, even quaint New England. The ski area, six miles up the road, maintains its own blend of classic and antique. Beyond that rises Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s tallest, and more Long Trail hikes. A few miles out of the village you can also find mountain bike trails — and hiking — at Trapp Family Lodge, where, in the fall, the hills truly do come alive.

Learn more
- Read “The Top 25 Foliage Towns in New England (and Thus the World!)” in Yankee magazine (September/October 2010); view the list on their website.
- Celebrations of fall over the Columbus Day holiday:
Mad River Glen is offering single-chair rides on Saturday and Sunday.
• Waterville Valley’s Fall Foliage Festival includes pie-eating contests, magic shows, and the season’s last chance to rent mountain bikes, take them on the Snow’s Mountain chairlift, and ride down.
• In North Conway, Cranmore Ski Resort has carved out a gruesome niche with its “Ghoullog” haunted mountain-top. No age restrictions listed, but clearly not for young souls or the faint of heart. Or visit Story Land.
• In Jackson, Wildcat Ski Area also offers fall foliage gondola rides and a zipline.
Stowe is hosting an arts festival and a chance to watch candy-makers at work. Gondola rides, a bungee trampoline, and a climbing wall are in operation over the weekend at the ski resort.

Photo credit for Conway Scenic Railway: Badger Realty. Photo of Joe Dodge Lodge at Pinkham Notch courtesy AMC.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Top 3: Hiking through Yankee's Top 25 Towns for Foliage

In my last post I described the article in the September/October issue of Yankee magazine that ranked the “Top 25 Towns for Foliage” in New England. I took that ranking, sorted it on the Hiking category, and created the “Great Kids, Great Outdoors Top 10 Towns for Fall Hikes.”

I’ve been to most of these towns at one time or another, often with children in hand. In my experience, there’s no resisting the appeal of classic New England in the fall. Whether it’s walking across a covered bridge or picking apples at a local orchard or hiking in to a brightly framed waterfall, the intensity of these fall experiences colors our children’s memories, the kind that lasts.

My Top 3, not surprisingly, correspond to Yankee’s overall top three towns:

Kent, Connecticut. Yankee found “the pinnacle of the leaf-peeping experience” in the northwestern Connecticut town of Kent. The small town (pop. 3,000) combines “uncommon natural beauty and culture,” with art galleries and public art in town, and waterfalls, granite outcroppings, and rivers just outside the town. Look at the three-mile orange trail hike through Macedonia Brook State Park, follow the Appalachian Trail for several miles along the Housatonic River, or hike a short distance to Kent Falls, a 200-foot cascade.

Bethel, Maine. “Maine’s mountain gem,” says Yankee, mentioning Evans Notch and Sunday River’s “chondola,” which whisks visitors 1,000 feet up the ski area’s North Peak on fall weekends. My kids would go for that, but not the covered bridge driving tour. A few of the many options for fall family hikes out of Evans Notch: The Roost Loop, East Royce Mountain, and Caribou Mountain.

Manchester, Vermont. Equinox Mountain, the highest peak in the Taconic Range, offers what Yankee calls “a painter’s palette of gold and crimson” in the first week of October. If the steep 5.8-mile hike to the summit on the Burr and Burton Trail is too long, try one of the short (less than one mile) trails maintained by the Equinox Preservation Trust. Or visit on October 16, the 5th Annual Pumpkin Carving Festival.

If it’s raining, or even if it isn’t, my children could spend an entire day in Northshire Bookstore, one of New England’s great independent bookstores. Jim, on the other hand, would be torn between wandering through Northshire and wading the waters of the Batten Kill, New England’s most famous fly-fishing river.

Hearing their dad bring up fly fishing, Ursula and Virgil clamored to join him. I guess we’re headed for Manchester sometime this month. Jim reassured me that it’ll be a great fall experience. “No leaves anywhere can match the color of male brook trout in the fall,” he told me.

Learn more
- Orvis, the fly fishing company based in Manchester, Vermont, holds fall fly-fishing classes for children.
- Read “The Top 25 Foliage Towns in New England (and Thus the World!)” in Yankee magazine (September/October 2010); view the list on their website.
- AMC's Connecticut Chapter is hosting an Appalachian Trail day on October 23, with hikes along the entire length of the trail in Connecticut.

Photo of Kent Falls, Connecticut. Credit: Ben Prepelka

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hiking through Yankee's “Top 25 Towns for Foliage”

It’s that time of year again. As of September 21, we’re officially in fall, or autumn — or as both locals and tourists call it around here, leaf season.

The focus certainly is on leaves. For one thing, they’re falling, which means we get to chase them. (Trying to catch a falling leaf makes children out of everyone, regardless of age, during the time it takes an autumn breeze to tug a leaf from its branch and whirl it to the ground.) And of course they’re changing color. We’ve been seeing a dull red in the swamps for some time now, but every day on our regular routes to and from school and lessons, we see new spots of orange, brilliant red, and yellow on the green hillsides and along the roads.

Articles about “the best” places to see high color, or to take photos of the foliage, are as much a staple of the season as the changing leaves themselves. This year, as part of its 75th anniversary celebration, Yankee magazine put together a list of the “top 25 foliage towns" in New England. The magazine’s editors based their rankings on scores in 14 categories. The categories ran to the obvious (color intensity, scenery, vistas, scenic drives, covered bridges) and tourist-friendly (shopping and lodging), but more than half fell into what I think of as a family-friendly grouping, such as proximity to parks or museums, water, farmers’ markets and farmstands, orchards.

And hikes. I looked more closely at the list of the top-ranked towns. Nine towns around New England received a perfect score for hiking. Although Yankee’s editors don’t specifically make this point, a little bit of checking convinced me that the hikes in these towns work well for families. Trails are often close to town and to other attractions, such as those orchards, farmers’ markets, and museums; and many of them are good lengths for children.

Over the next few days, I’ll post descriptions of those nine towns. I’m adding one more that I think should have received a perfect hiking score, too. Taken together, they add up to the “Great Kids, Great Outdoors Top 10 Towns for Fall Hikes.”

I hope you’ll share your favorite fall hikes here, as well.

Learn more
“The Top 25 Foliage Towns in New England (and Thus the World!)” (Yankee magazine, September/October 2010). The Yankee website does not contain all the information that’s in the magazine.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Popular Posts