WELD/RUMFORD- When Jennie-Mae and I sat down a few weeks back and planned out a few hikes to prepare for the summer season and to begin conditioning for our lofty hiking goals, we agreed, rain or shine.
“I won’t be able to stay inside or sit by a warm fire when it’s raining on the AT,” stated Jennie-Mae. “So, I need to experience the trail in all weather.”
You see, Jennie-Mae set herself a goal of completing the first 300 miles of the AT southbound from Katahdin this year and I finally spoke out loud of my goal to start the AT from Georgia in 2016 and walk home.
So, along with researching gear, shelters, mileage and food; we are spending this summer getting our bodies prepared as best we can to take endure our pack weight along the rugged ups and downs of The Trail.
Our first hike was slated for Mt. Blue, a steep elevation gain of approximately 1800 feet over 1.4 miles. As we got lost in conversation and subsequently lost our way to the trailhead that morning with our friends, Sandra and Jackie, it began to rain.
My immediate thought was that I really didn’t want to hike in a downpour, but there was no way I was going to admit that to my fellow adventure seekers. Because, I’m always the first one to declare, ‘It’s all good.’
We found the road to the trail, but the gate wasn’t open for the season yet. Jennie-Mae warned us that it was a rather long walk in, so we opted for plan b. One should always have a plan b.
Never having been up Tumbledown, I called it out and away we went. And, wouldn’t you know it, the rain stopped half way to the trailhead.
And, as a side note, the road that leads to the Mt. Blue trailhead is 2.5 miles. That would have been a long walk after a day of hiking. I’m happy we decided to go with plan b.
It was a great day of picture taking, nature studying and we even got a glimpse at the last of the snow and ice, as there was a rather large shaded section of the mountain that was still covered in winter scene.
We were blessed to have a rainy morning turn into a comfortable sunny day with a cooling breeze at the top of the mountain. The view of the western mountains was spectacular.
After lunch we traced our steps back down the ledge to the pond, took some more photos, chatted with some college students who were out for the day and made our way back to the trailhead.
Now, you remember I said that we made several plans to hike, well our next excursion took us up and over the Mahoosuc Land Trust’s Black & White Trail from Whitecap to Black Mountain. Once again, the weather gods cooperated and we had a nice mix of sun, clouds and wind to keep us comfortable, and after a weekend of rain, to keep the black flies from swarming us.
We took this hike a little differently, we wanted to check mileage, as well as trail features so we could recommend it to friends. After all, the first time I traversed the trail, we started from the Black Mountain side and it wasn’t well-marked then. But, now the MLT and conservation corps have added signs and white markers to guide hikers along the route.
Jennie-Mae and I began from the Whitecap side about 1:30pm, signing in and taking our time. We checked out interesting tree structures and found that most all the young beech trees have some sort of skin disease that fills their trunks full of holes. There was sign that the Region 9 forestry program had been up clearing the underbrush again this spring and we also found signs of disrespectful hikers leaving their uneaten food and trash behind. Thankfully, Jennie-Mae was prepared with a bag to collect it all.
I promised her I would stress to my readers the importance of carrying out what you carry in. “Just because it’s food you’re leaving, doesn’t mean animals eat it,” stated Jennie-Mae. “Seriously, have you ever seen a dried fruit tree in the mountains, or a bread tree?”
Throughout the hike, we picked up water bottles, aluminum cans, wrappers, and several pieces of forestry tape that either fell off the trees or was discarded.
We reached the Black & White trail intersection at 1.5 miles and walked out through the reindeer moss back into the cover of the beech and oak trees. The trail was covered in dry leaves, so we couldn’t see the actual trail real well, but the white markings on the trees were distinct.
As the trail switch-backed through the forest and traveled along the ledge that Whitecap consists of, we began to notice a few distinct rubs on the trees and at first thought it was deer. But upon closer examination we decided it was too low for deer.
I took several pictures and asked my husband later and he told me it was from porcupine. The little buggers eat the bark off the trees, and if you look closely at the picture, you can see teeth marks.
Now, at about three miles, there is a fork in the trail and on the left there is a bunch of white marks on the tree, as well as orange marker tape. It is here that you will keep to the right, as this is the actual trail. I’m not sure if there was a mistake when they marked it, but the left will dead end on you.
While hiking through here, we noticed several trees had come down through the winter and we had to either climb under or go around to stay on the trail.
After following a rather wet section of trail due to the early season and the recent rain, we came into the field between the mountains at 3.5 miles. This field is used for emergency helicopter transport and has a sign with instructions to follow if you find yourself in such a situation.
While we took a few minutes to rest near some sunning frogs, get a snack and enjoy the wild flowers, I found my first tick of the season crawling up my leg. Just a reminder to always do a tick check.
With a climb ahead of us, we donned our packs, took a swig of water and headed back into the forest. I quickly dubbed this section of trail porcupine and poop ridge. We came across several piles of moose droppings, a rather large pile of bear scat (almost the size of my foot), and wouldn’t you know it, a porcupine.
He was just up the trail ahead of us, but as much as we tried to track him and get closer for a photo op, that little bugger wanted nothing to do with us. He disappeared over a ridge. I guess he had his fill of paparazzi from another hiking group.
At five miles we emerged at the top of Black Mountain next to one of the three towers that are anchored down there.
Not far from where we enter back into the forest, we were surprised to see a nice lookout over the mountains in the distance. Later, after looking at a map, I discovered the view looks out toward the east with all the magnificent mountains. We now know that we were looking at the tower on top of Mt. Blue.
From here, the trail switchbacks through the forest and comes out at the side of the ski trails and then there’s just a short walk down the mountain near the lift to the lodge. In total, the trail is 6.2 miles from Whitecap to Black Mountain lodge. We reached the lodge at 5:55pm.
It was very well marked all the way through and I would highly recommend for hikers to plan an adventure on this trail. Whether you’re out for the day exploring the various types of ground cover, looking for unique moss or tree structure or looking to get a glimpse at some evading wildlife, this trail will surely appease your appetite.
I only have two suggestions to the MLT; one is that a sign be posted from the Black Mountain parking area for direction to the trailhead and that there be a sign-in box located at either end of the trail. Otherwise, it was a great hike and I’m very impressed with the effort that was put into making the River Valley’s first thru-hike trail.