Wednesday, December 1, 2021

A Quiet Walk in Evan's Notch

Most walks & hikes in Evan's Notch are quiet! So which one did we take?* Probably a more well known one: Shell Pond Loop. 

*This is a mega flashback to the summer, my picture-taking efforts have been weak!

The trail lies almost entirely on private property but corteous hikers are permitted. Parking is down Stone House Road off of Rt 113 in Evan's Notch and there are a few spots just before the gate - though as we left, vans were lining up along the side of the road as well.  We didn't see a soul until the end of our walk but the lot was full when we returned, though I suspect many were there for other hikes: the property also offers access to Blueberry Mountain, a great little hike with a gorgeous view. 

With the heat, I opted for the much flatter option. All hikers begin by passing the gate and beginning their walk up the dirt road. Shell Pond Loop Trail diverges to the right shortly afterwards. It weaves and winds; my first time almost losing the trail was where it seemed to hook left but there was a bridge straight ahead. Continue over the bridge and then to the left to stick with it. The trail then climbs a bit but there were a few small drinking holes for the girls. The trail follows the shoreline of the pond - but not in the manner I'd hoped. It's never reachable on the south side, as the trail climbs into the woods, creating a steep slide to the water. 

The water: so close, yet so far!

As we came around the east side of the pond and started traveling north, we finally got some good wallowing spots, much to the girls' excitement. It also looked like it could get very muddy (it does shortly afterwards)! There is one spot with a nice view of the pond and a stone bench but no easy access. The girls found where wildlife have parted the brush and enjoyed their last dip in the pond before we continued.

Where the loop turns west, there is an intersection with a trail that leads out to Evergreen Valley/Shell Pond Rd - we kept left but apparently there's a fabulous emerald green swimming hole to the right before the road. From here to the grassy fields, I found some difficulty navigating the trail proper, as it was overtaken with water and the grasses had grown wildly tall. Nevertheless, we linked together the obvious sections until we crossed a bridge and arrived in the field where the trail signs eventually picked back up.  

This is where I reeled the girls in from their long lines, as the trail passed by the residences and I wondered if I had erred again. Looking back over the photos, we were on the right track... which also serves as an air strip.  All's well that ends well!

After the pretty but scorching walk through the field, we enjoyed the partial shade of the road and final small stream/water opportunity for the girls before returning to the car, which was no longer alone in the lot; the early bird gets the empty trails - again!. 


While there's nothing particularly outstanding about Shell Pond, it is an undeniably enjoyable walk in the woods. Different sites put it at 3.4-4.0 miles in length. The trail is wide and easy to maneuver, the girls found ample water to stay hydrated, and there was an intriguingly wild element to navigating the flooded north side of the trail. I recall thinking the loop would be a very nice snowshoeing location - if the road is open in the winter. In the moment, it was also perfect for walking with Arya, who continues to improve in her reactivity but sometimes it's nice for all to simply walk without any triggers or training! Others may use the beginning of the trail as a means to an end (Blueberry Mountain); we were more than satisfied with our walk around the pond and its limited but very Maine-y views. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Camping with dogs: The human's tricks

I admit, no reinventing the wheel with this one but it's a post I have wanted to make for awhile: my go-to best practices for camping with dogs. And since the internet allows any ole anyone to share their two cents, I've finally gone ahead and  pulled together an obnoxiously cliche five favorite strategies from the many little hacks and top tips that I've tweaked over the last nine years that have made for a more fun, less bark-y experience that I think will be applicable to others.

I wrote this list with a couple ground rules in mind: you've already decided that your pup will likely enjoy camping and, while it'll be a learning experience, they probably won't be so reactive that it's a 24-hour training session, overexcited that they're anticipating every passerby to welcome them to camp, nor any other personality feature that could use some addressing beforehand.  Neither is this list meant to address etiquette/rules or safety (e.g. proof of vaccination) - it's focus is on strategies to enhance enjoyment.  Finally, while I believe all of these have at least some application to a number of types of camping, we're car campers staying at developed (but not "resort") sites.

1.  Select your site with care
I consider a few factors when picking a campground such as time of year, proximity to activities we enjoy and crowding (we're not fans).   My girlies love hiking and swimming so we stay near extensive trail systems. We frequent WMNF campgrounds; in New Hampshire, they tend to be consistently distant from Ty's worst triggers of gunfire and fireworks.  If we stay at a private campground, I'll give them a ring before booking, which also helps give me a sense of just how dog friendly they are.  

In general, quiet sites tend to work best for any dog.  "Quiet(er)" can translate to not near the camp host, bathrooms,  dumpsters, or any other amenities - or the off season. I'm partial to sites that have built-in sight barriers like an Adirondack shelter, a thick lining of trees between sites, or that are configured such that I can park my car broadside, blocking my dogs' view of the camp road (to reduce barking/maintain tranquility).

Arya's first trip, we rented an Adirondack shelter, knowing
a 360* view would be overload. Worked like a charm!

2. A tired dog is a calm camp dog
Ahhh I'm so excited I'm nervous!
Lessen those "ooooh something new!!" jitters (whining, pacing, barking) by arriving with an appropriately tired doggo.  I find this one simple and super helpful - especially the first couple of years.  Keep the calmness flowing by being prepared to run, hike, go for a drive - whatever you and your dog love to do together that tuckers them out throughout your stay.  Arya is a little quicker to arrive at "bored" so I bring a couple of toys that dust off easily and throw in some micro training sessions to break up the 'hanging out' portions of camping.

3. Bring familiar gear
Does your dog have an overnight bed, such as for visits to family homes or a regularly used crate? Favorite toy or chew? The girls settle in pretty fast and I attribute much of that to the familiarity I've added to their surroundings; they know what's going on and what's expected.  Just don't bring anything that can't take a little dirt! 

4. Consider your containment options
Generally, dogs are required to be restrained at campgrounds and I spent many years assuming that was by leash/tie out.  Only after seeing what others were doing to contain their dogs did I realize that's not the case (at least where we've stayed).  For us, clipping together a few exercise pens was a game changer.  Immediately, the issues with knocking over bowls, tangling around each other and equipment, and eliminating the cause of some of the defensive barking (from being restrained) made camping more enjoyable for everyone.  We're lucky that our two take the pens for what they are and don't test them but I fully recognize this may not work for others - just know that tying your dog to the picnic bench isn't the only option (but if it happens to work best for you/your dog - please use a harness!).  You can also buy or make an elevated runner system like this one.  Finally, if your dog is accustomed to a crate, bring one with you as well.   

A little tough to see but last week's layout included the two pen ends
terminating with one on each side of the back door to the car so the girls could go in and out -
since we spend a good deal of time in there, it is often their relaxation place of choice.
Working with their needs makes them happier and better behaved!

5. Go overboard! 
Admittedly, no flashy one-liner for my last strategy but I strongly recommend making a conscious effort to lay on the treats and all that good stuff.  Scattering kibble, doing a loop around the campground, and extra doggy massages by the fire are all little gestures that go a long way towards ensuring our dogs are as engaged and happy with our recreation of choice as we are.  (And a lot less wearisome for us than telling them to 'shush' or 'just lay down' frequently).  The girls are naturally bark-y and it brings them great joy when it rains Kix cereal every time I see they've quietly noticed something worth barking at (so this one is a win-win, as it makes us better site neighbors too!). 

Princess and the pea

At home, they usually take their chews outside so
hides make a naturally good camp snack!

 Hopefully you found my list useful or the items sparked new ideas!  They've never failed me and our experiences continue to be smoother each time as we finesse the details!

Taking turns on watch

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Avoiding the crowds on Gunstock

We recently had the great fortune to take a weekday hike with our friends, beginning under cloud covered skies and ending with sunshine, summiting Rowe and Gunstock in Gilford.  

Route: (loosely) Access Rd to Rowe summit (1680') - Belknap Range Trail - Access Rd/ski trails - Gunstock summit (2244'), Access roads/ski trails to the base.
Mileage: appx 4.3 miles
Favorite features: great footing, variety of open meadow and wooded environments, blueberry bushes, ledgey ridge walking without the crowds. 

Another not-so-precise trip report!  From the parking lot for the ski area, follow the road that skirts behind the main building, towards the playground and take a left - up the hill.  Here begins the unpaved access road that we took all the way to the summit of Rowe.  It begins fairly steep but easily navigable, even for clumsy feet, over gravel and packed earth.  There are bypasses that go through the woods but we opted to stick with the road.  It's a nice treat to be able to talk with your hiking companion without having to crane your neck back or have your doggo on a long line without constantly untangling yourself from trees!  

The summit of Rowe has some cell tower equipment but is otherwise, no offense Rowe, unremarkable.  However, upon re-entering the woods (watch for the post and blazing), we began a pretty, low ridge walk that eventually opened onto blueberry ledges. They were perfectly ripe and it was very difficult to avoid lingering!  After some nice views of our target summit and the lake, we re-entered the woods but again, were repeatedly treated to blueberries and smooth ledge walking surfaces.

Eventually - probably earlier than intended by trail managers - we popped out onto the ski trails, which we took for the remainder of the hike.  We were lucky and some of the water bars had just enough to re-hydrate the dogs.  This is a brutal section under sunny skies but we were protected by the clouds this time.  As the chair lifts come into sight, the grade steepens and the thought "oh yeah, 'up!'" comes to mind. To be sure, there are short breaks in the grade that are just as appreciated going up on foot as they are for novice skiers like me going down!  

We bailed shortly before the lodge, following the road around to the right and stopping for a snack, before opting to head down the ski trail in front of us (looking down the mountain - left of the one we took up).  It looks like we followed the dotted blue line on the map below but I can't be certain.  This one was a little less gravel road and a little more meadow-y.  The upper 2/3 or so are mostly packed dirt and grass with some slick ledgy rocks - and narrower than the trail up.  We noticed flagging in a couple of places that indicated small footpaths that led back to the wooded trail.  Eventually, Hannah noticed the large sign to the left that notifies hiker of the Belknap Range trail system but we decided to stick with the pretty, open meadow walk with the lake views that eventually curved around to the access road to finish our descent to the base - further center and closer to the parking lot than where we embarked from.  


It was the perfect afternoon hike for our crew!  

Summary and thoughts:
I love this hike; the Belknaps in general are a go-to that I best not take for granted.  While Gunstock is open for summer activities, it was easy enough to skirt around the families and head straight up. While I have been caught off guard by the number of other hikers encountered on a couple of occassions (still single digits), we passed exactly zero others today (not counting the handful of folks at the summit, many of whom took the chair lift, who we never interacted with).  Bonus feature: there are many other trails that start from Gunstock, allowing for on the fly target modifications, if needed.

The footing, even when damp as it was on Monday (and why we sought a hike with good footing), is as good as it gets for a hike in NH with elevation changes.  While the beginning of Rowe and summit of Gunstock are steep, they're not Tuckerman steep and could be compared to the Mt. Major Trail on its namesake trail (without the ledges) or Hedgehog.  I'd say this hike is one of the best as far as consistently good footing goes - while the gravel can be a little loose, there's no rocky sections, no scrambles, nothing my arthritic dogs can't do comfortably - and while I deeply miss Caps Ridge, it just doesn't get any better than Rowe/Gunstock these days.  The fact that there's some choice in when to pop on and off the wooded and ski trails is also nice, allowing us to be flexible without changing the overall plan - it all meets back together.  Whether it's to be able to make a quick bail or simply switch up the scenery, that's a feature I've come to love in a hike!

Online resources: 
Belknap Range Trail Tenders:
Gunstock trail map:

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Rambling in Blue Job State Forest

Blue Job (1356') is a well-loved and unbeatable "bang for your buck" small hike straddling Farmington and Strafford, NH.  The most popular loop covers Blue Job, with its climbable fire tower, and the ledgey, open Little Blue Job, with its distant but lovely view of the White Mountains.

Setting the scene: 54,* rainy kickoff to the Fourth of July weekend 
Route: Left onto the Fire Tower Loop to the summit - backtrack down to Little Blue Job Trail to the pond (no summit today). Pond Trail - Blue Job summit - northern arm of Fire Tower Loop back to the lot (right, if facing the sign at the summit).  
Miles: appx. 2.5
Duration: 1.5 hours
Max elevation gain: appx 400'
Favorite features: Blueberries (very close to ready 7/3/21!), mountain pond, environment of Little Blue Job with its open ledge + stone walls + dusty summit paths.

Description: The hike overall is a very pleasant and easy one.  There are still ascents to be had but for context, Blue Job is similar to the hikes around Pawtuckaway and Agamenticus.  Terrain is generally packed dirt, though there are heavily eroded sections with lots of roots and some looser gravel on Little Blue Job.  Closer to each summit are ledgey sections of smooth, exposed rock. At no point would I consider the described sections of trails rocky or steep.  Part of the northern section of the Fire Tower Loop is even an old, crumbling asphalt road.  There's a bunch of super helpful descriptions out there so mine will mostly be in picture format :) 

Section breakdown

Fire Tower Loop (taking a left from the lot) to the junction with Little Blue Job Trail: easy through open woods, usually a brook for the doggos (dry in 7/21, even with the rain).


Fire Tower Loop to summit: Mostly wide trail that weaves up the mountain past a couple of blocked, private trails and blueberry bushes.  Brook in non-summer months towards the bottom.

Little Blue Job to Pond Trail: Largely flat or rolling trail through open woods.  One large, fairly recent blowdown. Fun pond and unofficial trail around it, as well as many herd paths that cut up the side of Little Blue Job and meet back with the main trail.

Pond Trail to Blue Job Summit: This section had the most terrain variety during today's meander.  We went from smooth ledge to rolling dirt paths to some briefly steeper, exposed ledgy sections.  (These get super icy in winter.)

Summary and notes: On paper, it might not look like much but you can get in a little elevation, great views, and wonderful variety at Blue Job.  Everyone, from seasoned hiker dog Ty to less-outdoorsy friends, find Blue Job engaging and enjoyable year-round.  It's understandable why it's so popular and that's why I tend to go at off-hours (and still tend to encounter up to a dozen fellow visitors), especially where Arya is doing so well with her training and I don't want to take a step backwards with too many dog-dog interactions on one hike.  It's reasonably well marked, with off-limits trails being specified as such, but the numerous herd paths ascending Little Blue Job can throw off a new visitor - know that they all meet up where they should!  After finally looking at a map while writing, I realized that some of the trails that didn't seem 'official' actually are, so it appears we have some more exploring to do!  Someday, I'll report on those and the more standard loop over both peaks! (Although NHFH gives a great description of the latter here.)

Map credit to the Town of Farmington