Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Hiker's Ride up the Mt Washington Auto Road

Lately I’ve found myself explaining this one a lot: I’m an avid hiker who prefers to explore on foot but I’m also the proud holder of a Mt Washington Auto Road season pass. I do love being a contradiction...!

Snow in June... that's a contradiction!
Admittedly, I used to roll my eyes at the mention of the Cog or Auto Road - the motorized methods of transportation to the summit of the northeast’s tallest peak. But simple things, like working for a travel agency and watching Tango truck on through lessening body awareness and muscle strength, softened my view and helped me acknowledge what I knew deep down: however one gets to the beloved summit, there is tremendous value in the fact that visitors invest their time and money to get there.

Summit structures
Pulloff shortly below the summit
While, yes, I still go crazy from some of what I see on my way up and at the summit and never make a trip without trying to politely, even lightheartedly, impart a little LNT knowledge, it's a wonderful trip.  And I acknowledge that vehicles allow people who might not otherwise have the means (time, gear, stamina, health, etc.) to access a summit that holds the power to mystify them, wow them with sweeping vistas, and make them more emotionally connected to the landscape.  We, as a society, need that for so many reasons.

View north from the observation deck
Little flowers, big attraction
One of the beautiful views attained by less than a quarter mile 
of descending the aptly nicknamed 'rockpile' (summit cone)

As Tango approaches his 12th birthday, I’m presented with two facts:   

1. I love Mt Washington and the alpine zone. It is my happy place, my Disney World, my heart’s home.

2. Tango’s lower back weakness betrays his otherwise youthful trail smiles. A properly choreographed hip check from a dog friend and he’s in a sit faster than any rally dog… just nowhere near as clean.

So how do I get to continue to share my “happy place” with both my dogs/not exclude Tango because of something that’s beyond his control? Enter a perfectly timed birthday and family that understands that my dogs’ happiness is my happiness - the gift of the Mt Washington Auto Road Pass.

2019 pass #4!
Since our first visit a couple of years ago, the Mt Washington Auto Road has really grown on me.  The itinerary options for a visit are much broader than they seem at first glance. I’ve found the state park (accessible only via the auto road, cog railroad, or on foot) to be a wonderful way to get our non-hiking friends out for a unique experience while challenging Tybee and not being too taxing on Tango.

Although not representative of the hiking experience as a whole, the availability of hot food and “real" bathrooms helped ease our greener companions into hiking and contribute to their positive experience. Moreover, I thought, surely, the appreciation for the work associated with summiting on foot would be lost of our companions. Not so! I made a point of stopping and getting out of the car every 1500 feet or so for us to acclimate to the changing temperature and wind gusts. The drastic change from the valley floor was well understood and the rock hopping off the summit cone isn’t a cake walk, so even the shortest of hikes offered a reasonable challenge for them.

Not a walk in the park!

The classic summit picture is at the cairn in the background.
Usually, there's a line of people waiting their turn.  
Another benefit of the auto road is the ability to combine a visit to my favorite summit with other activities. So far, that’s allowed us to see a whole lot of lupines, kick back at Chocorua Lake on the way home, and more!

Finally, there's something intrinsically satisfying about the chance to enjoy the trails and support the local economy at the same time.  The truth is, I sort of pride myself on finding cheap adventures around this incredible little state, usually away from the crowds.* On the other hand, I also wholly appreciate the value in supporting NH businesses.

The auto road and state park are dog friendly.  Ty loves when I
open up all the windows for the ride, especially the hatch!

Sure, there are concerns like carbon emissions, and yes, if you got there on foot, you should totally get to cut the line at the summit cairn, but I see the auto road & state park as a joint opportunity for regional visitors and residents to connect with what we hikers get to see and experience regularly. The truth is, we need as many advocates as we can get to continue to protect these places as our world changes. 

Our friend taking in Carter-Wildcat Ridge from a pulloff
shortly before the subalpine zone withers into talus

From my perspective, the auto road folks are dedicated advocates for Mt Washington, demonstrated through a number of earnest green initiatives and support of scientific studies.   And they’re always up for a good time, hosting a bunch of niche events to bring out the community, from runners to ATV’ers, and are a part of the Mt Washington Valley community at large. The way these guys tie all that together into a successful business is impressive and all the more endearing to someone who is selective about where she spends her money.

A day visiting George, supporting a local business I respect, engendering a greater appreciation and respect for nature in our friends, and making both puppers happy all at once proves what a great experience the Mt Washington Auto Road can be for anyone from the casually interested to diehard hikers.

*I recommend an early start, visiting towards the shoulders of their open season, or (to some degree - summer is still tourist season) a weekday visit if you and/or your dog prefer a less crowded experience.

Final Note: regardless of how you summit, Mt Washington is no joke.  Check the forecast, prepare for cooler temps, and pack a bag.  One should be prepared for even the smallest of adventures!  Lastly, the cafeteria is cash only, plan accordingly.

Friday, June 7, 2019

MuttRuk Phoenix 14 Pack Review

Hello! Quite the sabbatical I seem to have taken - 14 months if I dare admit it!

Though I was never as active with this space as I wanted to be, I felt that blogging led to a loss in quality time with the dogs and the backlog that accompanied that sentiment proved too great to write my way out of. In the months since I thought I’d given up, I’ve devoted more effort to both doing more with the pups and working towards achieving my lifestyle goals. It’s made for a busy but rewarding year.

That perspective is part of why I started following an Instagram profile by dog-mom Gretchen about her two pups, Lander and Phoenix. I connected with so many of her posts about hiking with her spirited, pointy-eared problem child and stoically handsome, ever-watchful senior. Come to find out, Gretchen has been working on a wicked cool project: a pack designed for people who hike with their dogs. Being the niche gear hoarder that I am, when she put out the call for an ambassador search, I applied and was blown away when I was invited to the team.

Arrival day!
The pack's stitching pays homage to Gretchen's pointy-eared furkids. 
Ty fits right in!
Her company, Muttruk, recently debuted its first pack, the Phoenix 14. We’ve had ours for about 6 weeks and it’s become my go-to pack for anything from a 45 minute meander to a half day hike. Its versatility means it goes into the woods, down to the beach, and over to the brewery with us. I’ve included a link to their Kickstarter campaign so you can check out all features and specs that come together to keep me organized when I'm out with the dogs. I want to highlight just a few so I can demonstrate how intuitive and convenient they are in detail.

First, if I could put the Phoenix 14’s shoulder straps on all my packs, I would. I love these things and here’s why: my phone is unnecessarily big and on top of that, it lives in thick, a drop-rated case. It doesn’t fit anywhere. Except the Phoenix. The vertical pockets are microfiber lined and incredibly ergonomic; grabbing the phone the second the dogs do something remotely picture-worthy is as intuitive as pressing the shutter button.

Since I take all my pictures on my phone, this bug spray bottle was conveniently 
stashed in the pack and makes the same point about pocket capacity!

Second, more pockets! I’ll admit, I’ve got some pretty sweet hip belt pockets on my bigger Gregory packs. But none are as delightfully ginormous as those on the Phoenix 14.

Hip belt pocket features:

On the right side, there is an exterior pocket specifically for a roll of waste bags. It’s convenient and I think, for passers-by who notice, reinforces a positive impression of dog-owning hikers as conscientious trail users.

On the left side is an integrated daisy chain and carabiner. Options abound with these attachment points. I have been using them to keep Ty’s SportDog collar and a leash at the ready. The ability to switch back and forth management tools and reinforce good behavior more frequently because treats are more readily accessible, has allowed me to better respond - and keep ahead of - her prey drive than while wearing other packs, when I’d either ignore training moments or repeatedly stop to dig something out. The Muttruk way is a much safer and more enjoyable way!

Two noteworthy observations about the attachment points: First, the placement of the chain was well thought out. My husband and I have each used the pack with her collar and remote affixed and simply by moving how far down the chain they’re positioned, neither of us felt any arm movement inhibition despite our different builds. Secondly, the carabiner’s sleeve is sewn to the pocket as well as any premium dog collar and I trust it to bear significant weight.

Removable liners - so use and abuse them without worrying about consequences. Got some messy treats but forgot the pouch? Run out of places to store a used waste bag? Problems solved (they mask scent really well too, FYI!).

Just as promised, extensive detail about only a few of the many features of the Phoenix 14. To continue on about its comfort and durability and dive into the main compartment would require a small book! So why focus on pockets? Because their functionality leads to an enhanced experience and if you’ve read my other reviews on products such as the Release ‘n’ Run, you’ll understand how much I value gear that supports underserved user needs. Tango would second the on-point functionality, as my function is to keep the trail treats coming and he definitely gets more of them since I’m not as focused on portioning out my supply til the next time I plan to remove my pack. The simple fact that it’s perfectly sized for a broad spectrum of adventures means I take it places I used to bring hardly anything then wished I had a given item, either out of necessity or the dogs’ comfort. I may have very specific reasons why I’m a huge fan of Muttruk and the Phoenix 14 but the pack is so versatile that anyone who brings their dog along for adventures will reap the benefits of Gretchen’s foresight and innovation!

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Peaks of Pawtuckaway

Last week I went from gung-ho about peakbagging to barely wanting to head out at all come Friday night.  Joining Hannah at Pawtuckaway on Saturday, April 7 was the perfect solution.

We had a rough idea of what we wanted to do: Reservation Road to North Mountain (1011'), maybe add in the tower on South (908'), and loop back to the car.  Speaking of rough, apologies for the unedited photos, lack of summary stats, and first draft-level language; I'm still working on finding blog writing time while my brain is still awake!

To get to our starting point, we followed Reservation Road down the hill past where it turns to dirt and parked near the first orange gate (also where the road hooks to the right).

Easiest of easy starts
There were several cars parked along the road and we prepared for a busier day than anticipated.  The trails starts on  what I assume was once a carriage road but quickly we reached the junction with North Mountain Trail and started with a brief, rocky climb.  

There is no snow up to North Mountain!  The trail is well marked with white blazes yet we still found ourselves accidentally wandering off between the sparse trees.  Grades are moderate and the terrain is more akin to that of the Ossipee Range trails than the Whites – more hard packed dirt and rock slabs than boulder-strewn.  It often reminded me of Mt Roberts but a little easier.

Between Ty and Titus, we seem to be in a calamity vortex that included our first porcupine encounter in quite some time.  Ty led as Titus followed her off trail, noses suspiciously angled upwards.  In a strange turn of events, she returned promptly when called and Titus had to be tracked down by his confused barks.  Yep, T’s first quilling L

The bizarreness continued but in a more productive way as we rounded everyone up and away from the languishing porky.  A couple was coming down the hill with their three dogs.  Lo and behold, they were veterinarians! And damn good ones; the guys, whose name I regret forgetting, calmly pulled T’s quills out (with his fingers no less!) and gave a quick recap of recommended aftercare before we continued on.  How Ty didn’t put herself in the middle of the interaction and what made T nip at the animal’s prickly backside more than once has stumped us both!

As we continued on, there were a couple of opportunities for hill views and the wind started to pick up.  We made it down to the old concrete blocks for a short break and Hannah made out better than I did getting the dogs to pose.  Tango has his “front paws up” mastered but won’t stay without constant rewarding just yet.

Between the base of the old tower and the pond, the trail went through patches of dense conifers and has some steep sections with lots of ice-glazed roots.  I was in Bogs and did alright but the party that let us go first was wearing micros and warned me to "be careful."  We enjoyed the alternating tree cover and spring vs. desperate last hold on winter conditions.

"Teach Titus bad things day"
Final drop down to the marsh
Down by the ponds, we wove around the marshes and boulders, somewhat following the trail but appeasing Ty’s exploratory nature. 

There's a reason Carolina Dogs are called "swamp dogs!"
Wallowing season
"Please pretend you love me for two seconds...." 
More neat rocks

Back on another carriage road temporarily, we opted to take South Mountain Trail up to the fire tower.  It seemed steeper than it should have felt and one of the pitches was straight dirt.  Makes me wonder how long before erosion has its way with the trail.

More of TybTangs leading young Titus astray.  They remind me of the archetypal neighborhood teens when someone's younger brother joins the gang.

The trail took some nice breaks, crossed a stream, and continued upwards, more gently towards the top.  Below the tower was nice and open but hosted a handful of people  so we walked over to the open slabs adjacent but devoid of other hikers.  Hannah put in a valiant effort to snap a photo of me with the dogs but I have uncooperative canines and a disappointing lack of understanding of how a real camera works.

Because one tower picture isn't enough

From the clearing just past the tower

From there we made our descent.  The woods were fairly open, I suppose allowing for lots of scent to travel because again Ty and Titus had their noses to the sky.  On that side was also the only place we encountered thick ice as it cascaded over roots.  Winter is barely hanging on!

We bottomed out and took Tower Road to Reservation Road to reach the cars.

I see a conversation of directions ;)
As much as I originally wanted to summit a 4K, Pawtuckaway was exactly what we needed.  I felt accomplished after the 8-point-something miles involving two smaller peaks, Ty got to run around like the crazy dingo she is, and it was another moderate but enjoyable challenge for Tango.  We love this park because there is so much to explore, especially during the off season when it's quieter and dogs are permitted on more of the trails. We plan to return for more time around the marshes and boulders because Ty absolutely loves them, although we may wait til the porcupines are not just coming out of hibernation!  It was a wonderful, strange trip with Hannah and her pups and I’m thrilled beyond words everyone had a fun time!

Trail Map from NH Parks: