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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Connecticut in Autumn, Hiking the Pine Knob Loop, Cornwall Bridge

This 2.5-mile loop is an excellent introduction to the short summits of the Litchfield Hills, an ideal retreat on a sunny fall afternoon. From the parking lot, cross Hatch Brook and begin your ascent to the first knob through a forest of oaks, ashes, maples, and hickories. Follow the blue blazes up the steep rocky slopes to your first lookout, before descending precipitously into a col. Here, you meet up with the Appalachian Trail and veer left back into the forest. Soon, you’re atop the second knob, which provides you with excellent vistas. The waters of the Housatonic River wind through the valley while the ski trails of Mohawk Mountain can be seen to the left in the distance. The Pine Knob Trail and the AT eventually split when you reach Hatch Brook. Veer left and venture downhill accompanied by the sounds of rushing water. When you reach the loop junction, turn right to return to your car.  

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/27/12 at 12:00 PM
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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Vermont Week, Climbing Mount Hunger

Judging from the three cars parked at the trailhead, all with Vermont license plates, the climb up Mount Hunger is a trail treasured by locals. Once you make it to the 3,538-foot summit (allow 4 hours round-trip), you’ll understand why. The backbone of the Green Mountains stand before you, including those famous ski areas, Killington and Stowe. Like most of Vermont’s trails, the climb starts from the first step, a steady uphill walk that became steep at some stretches. Eventually the beeches, yellow birches, and maples give way to spruces and balsam firs. The bare rocks atop Hunger offer commanding views of the entire state. Mount Mansfield’s chin, nose, and other facial features are visible to the east. Waterbury Reservoir sits in the valley below, fringed by White Rock, Hunger’s next door neighbor. Unlike Camel’s Hump, Mount Mansfield, and the other popular peaks in the Green Mountains, here atop Hunger, one can savor this view all by your lonesome.
From Waterbury, follow State Route 100 North to Waterbury Center. Turn right on Barnes Hill Road, left onto Maple Street, and right onto Loomis Hill Road. Bear left atop the hill as the road turns to dirt. Park 3.7 miles from the junction of Maple Street on the right-hand side of the road.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/05/12 at 12:00 PM
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Friday, July 20, 2012

Climb Mount Craig, North Carolina

The Black Mountains encompass North Carolina’s highest peaks, including Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mt. Craig (6,645 feet), the two tallest summits east of the Mississippi River. On the 12-mile (one-way) Black Mountain Crest Trail (a 2 ½-hour drive from Charlotte), Craig is just one of a half-dozen peaks over 6,000 feet climbers get to bag.  Leave the Mt. Mitchell State Park through a forest of hemlock, spruce, and pine, and within a mile, you’ll be atop Craig. This is the start of a magical ridge walk among ferns, blackberry bushes, moosewood, spruce, and fir as you climb up and down the serrated crest of the Blacks. Small gaps separate the peaks, where surging streams come tumbling down the dense vegetation. It’s best to take this path with a buddy and leave a second car at Bowlen’s Creek, the trail’s end.  
I’m off to Costa Rica, back August 9th. Enjoy the heart of the summer and keep climbing!

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/20/12 at 12:00 PM
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Climb Longs Peak, Colorado

Despite its forbidding East face and a summit of strewn boulders, Rocky Mountain National Park’s highest peak is climbed by hundreds in the summer months. Spend at least one night at 7,000 to 8,000 feet to adjust to the elevation and then begin this 15-mile round-trip (10 to 15 hours) hike in the wee morning hours. Starting at the East Longs Peak trailhead (9400 feet and a 90-minute drive from Denver), the first six miles is a moderate ascent through a forest of sub-alpine fir, Engelmann spruce, and what the Germans call krummholz (crooked timber). At aptly named Boulder Field (12,760 feet), the path steepens as you begin the Keyhole Route to the top. Here, the above-treeline ledges resemble a cliffside stairway, albeit without handrail. The final “Homestretch” is a scramble atop rocks as the Continental Divide and all the glorious splendor of the Rockies spread out on a carpet of green before you. Try to get off the 14,225-foot summit by noon, when summer thunderstorms often begin its daily light show on the exposed rock. Colorado Mountain School offers guided hikes up the mountain.  

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/19/12 at 11:59 AM
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Climb Mount Shasta, California

When a five-year-old sketches a perfect triangular cone of a mountain, they come pretty damn close to drawing Mount Shasta. Standing 14,162 feet tall, this snow-clad Northern Californian beauty (a 4-hour drive from Sacramento) can be seen from a 100-mile radius.  To reach its prominent summit, however, is no easy task.  Even in the summer months, you’ll need crampons and an ice ax.  These can be rented locally or you can opt to go with Shasta Mountain Guides who will teach you how to best trudge in snow as they accompany you on the trail. The 6.1-mile, 6,000 vertical feet climb starts at a stone building the Sierra Club calls Horse Camp. You might wish you were on a horse as the South face trail rises sharply past the frozen shores of 10,000-foot high Lake Helen to the icy slopes of the 13,000-foot high Red Banks. This is where your ice ax comes in handy since Red Banks has a good 35-degree grade. Reach the summit and you’ll be treated with views of 10,457-foot Lassen Peak, the Three Sisters in Oregon and the other volcanic peaks that make up the Cascade chain. Give yourself 13 hours for the uphill climb and a mere 1-2 hours for the descent, where you simply slide down on your ass.  The French have a lyrical name for this exhilarating downhill journey, glissade.  

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/18/12 at 12:00 PM
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Climb Mount Moriah, Nevada

A four-hour drive from Salt Lake City, Great Basin National Park is a little-known gem where mountains over 13,000 feet rise dramatically from the desert floor. Wheeler Peak (13,063 feet) is the highest mountain in the park, but if you want diversity of terrain, local rangers suggest trekking the 11-mile Hendrys Creek Trail to the summit of 12,067-foot Mt. Moriah. The 5,000-foot vertical climb takes you through thickets of pinon pine and vast glades of aspen forest. At 11,000 feet, you reach the Table, Moriah’s rolling sky-high plateau. On the Table’s rim are stands of twisted bristlecone pines, which, at 3,000 to 4,000 years old, are the oldest type of tree on the planet. From here, it’s just a scramble up rocks to the summit. If visibility is good, you can look across an uninterrupted carpet of sagebrush for a good 100 miles.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/17/12 at 12:00 PM
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Monday, July 16, 2012

Climb Katahdin

The sweltering days of summer is when my mind wanders to the lofty peaks of North America. Unless you like climbing with ice axe and crampons, this is the best time to bag a peak. This week, I’ll be discussing some of my favorite climbs in the States. First stop, mighty Mount Katahdin at Baxter State Park, Maine. 

Katahdin is a fitting end to the Appalachian Trail in the north. Reaching the mass of rock atop the 5,267 foot summit is a challenge to the most experienced climber, even the AT thru-hiker who spent the last six months racking up more than 2,100 miles. Yet, it's somewhat of a disappointment that the AT ascends Katahdin from the Hunt Trail, the easiest (if there’s such a thing) and least spectacular path to the peak. For an unparalleled mountainous ascent in the northeast, you should opt for the Knife Edge. Like the name implies, this three to foot wide granite sidewalk sharply drops off more than 1,500 feet on either side.  
The best way to reach the Knife Edge is the Helen Taylor Trail from the Roaring Brook Campground.  All the ascents are a struggle. You start at about 1,500 feet and don't stop climbing until you run out of mountain. When the Helen Taylor trail hits Pamola Peak, a little over three miles into the climb, bear left to find the Knife Edge.  First you’ll ascend South Peak, then Baxter Peak, the actual summit of Katahdin. Rest those spaghetti legs and take in the exquisite vistas of northern Maine—Chesuncook Lake, the West Branch of the Penobscot River, Big and Little Spencer Mountains, and all the peaks that form massive Katahdin.
As you gloat, proud of your grand accomplishment, just remember that Henry David Thoreau climbed Katahdin without a trail. “It was vast, Titanic, such as man never inhabits. Some part of the beholder, even some vital part, seems to escape through the loose grating of his ribs as he ascends,” Thoreau noted in The Maine Woods.   No doubt, you’ll agree.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/16/12 at 12:00 PM
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Thursday, June 07, 2012

My Favorite Small Outfitters, Ken’s Hinterland Adventure Tours, Dominica

Unlike the rest of the Caribbean, the attraction in Dominica is not the beach, but a lush mountainous interior ripe with every tropical fruit and vegetable imaginable and inundated with so much water that around every bend is another raging waterfall, a serene swimming hole nestled in the thick bush, or a hidden hot spring to rest your weary body after a day in the outdoors. Indeed, this island closest to Martinique has become an affordable haven for the active traveler who yearns to hike through a jungle-like forest. My guide for a week of treks into the interior was Kent Augiste of Ken’s Hinterland Adventure Tours. The highlight was a 7-hour round-trip hike inside Morne Trois Pitons National Park to the crater known as Boiling Lake. We hiked through a dense forest of tall gommier trees, staring at the iridescent purple-throated hummingbirds as they kept us company. Afterwards, we lounged in the natural hot spring at Papillote Wilderness Retreat. Owner Anne Jno Baptiste first came to the island from the States in 1961. Eight years later, she bought a 7-acre chunk of land enveloped by the rainforest that she would cultivate into a flower-rich botanical garden and one of the Caribbean’s first eco-resorts. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/07/12 at 12:00 PM
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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

My Favorite Small Outfitters, Bob Hicks at Gros Morne Adventures


In the summer of 2002, I had the pleasure of backpacking the stunning Long Range Traverse, on assignment for Backpacker magazine. Nestled within Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unique combination of quartzite rock and wetland terrain, the Long Range Mountains could very well be the one of the last remnants of pristine wilderness within a three-hour flight of New York and Boston. There were no manicured trails with requisite wooden signs showing us which way to go and exact mileage to get there. The Long Range Traverse is a 35 kilometer semi-circular route where topo maps and a compass are a necessity to find your way among the web of caribou paths. Indeed, caribou and moose far outnumbered the four other backpackers we saw on the four-day traverse, averaging one hiker per day. 
With limited amount of time, my friend and I decided to hire an outfitter, Bob Hicks, co-owner of Gros Morne Adventures. The advantage of having a guide is obviously you won’t get lost for hours, sliding knee-deep in the muck or coming out of the brush with sharp tuckamore branches nesting in your hair (tuckamore is Newfoundland’s version of the stunted balsam tree, comparable in appearance to krummholz in the Alps). You also won’t miss the slight detours from the route that lead to striking overlooks above three landlocked fjords. I’m sure you’ve seen a version of this photo on many advertisements for clothing and travel. This is a shot of Bob Hicks taken by my buddy, Jeff Katz. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/05/12 at 12:00 PM
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hiking Gulf Hagas from Lodge to Lodge

The people of Maine often refer to Gulf Hagas as the "Grand Canyon" of the state. There’s nothing wrong with a little zealous pride, but Gulf Hagas is no Grand Canyon.  However, it is one of Maine’s most spectacular hikes. Hidden amidst the 100 Mile Wilderness of the Appalachian Trail, a 45-minute drive on dirt roads from Greenville, Gulf Hagas is a gorge carved by the pounding waters of the Pleasant River and the lumbermen’s dynamite. A series of exquisite waterfalls await you as the river drops nearly 500 feet in 2.5 miles through the narrow walls of the slate canyon. Buttermilk Falls is an apt name for the frothy white foam the water becomes as it churns down the rocks. A swimming hole just beyond the falls is a favorite place for hikers to strip down to their undergarments and plunge into the auburn-red waters. Those piercing screams heard are just folks getting used to the cool temperature.  

Now you can hike the Gulf Hagas trail as part of a new lodge to lodge route offered by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Spend the night at Gorman Chairback Lodge, then take the Henderson Brook Trail through a scenic gorge for 1.6 miles. This trail connects with the Rim Trail that will bring you through Gulf Hagas, where you’ll spend the night at the nearby Little Lyford Lodge. The total distance is 8.9 miles, perfect for a day’s trek. If you can add an additional day of hiking at Gorman Chairback, consider heading up to Third Mountain across the Appalachian Trail and back down to the lodge via the Henderson Brook Trail. This is serious moose country, so don’t be surprised to run into one. First opened as a private sporting camp in 1867, it’s hard to top the locale of Gorman Chairback, located on the shores of Long Pond in the shadows of the Barren-Chairback Range.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/18/12 at 12:00 PM
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photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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