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Hiking

Friday, January 11, 2013

Top 5 Travel Experiences of 2012, Hiking the Skyline Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

The landscape of Cape Breton is a mesmerizing mix of rolling summits, precipitous cliffs, high headlands, sweeping white sand beaches, and glacially carved lakes, all bordered by the ocean. The Cabot Trail is a road that hugs the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the rugged northwestern edge of Nova Scotia, where around every bend you want to pull over, spew expletives of joy at the stupendous vista, and take another snapshot. Indeed, it’s as close to Big Sur as the East Coast gets. Add bald eagles, moose, coyotes, and pilot whales fluking in the nearby waters and you want to leave the car behind and soak it all up on two legs. 

 
In early October, I visited Cape Breton and sampled one of the most popular trails, Skyline, a 5.7-mile loop atop the ridge of a coastal headland. I took deep breaths of the sweet pines as I meandered over the roots and rocks on the grassy path. Eventually, the trail snakes to the left offering expansive views of the sea. At the halfway point, a boardwalk leads down the headland and wow, what a majestic stroll it is. To the left is a backbone of peaks, to the right is all ocean as far as the eye can see. I sat down on a bench and bit into my honeycrisp apple, watching a whale spout. It was hard to leave, but after having my fill, I made my way back on the loop. Within minutes, I was staring at a mother moose and her calf. No surprise that the Skyine made my top 5 list in 2012! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/11/13 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Top 5 Adventures in the Caribbean, Hiking Dominica

As the leaves fall from the oak trees in my backyard just outside Boston, my thoughts turn to warmer weather. Specifically to my favorite adventures in the Caribbean. For those of you who’ve been reading this blog since its inception, forgive me for continually praising Dominica, but it offers the finest hiking in the region. This island near Martinique has become an affordable haven for the active traveler who yearns to hike through a lush mountainous interior 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. Ken’s Hinterland Adventure Tours will take guide you on a 7-hour round-trip hike inside Morne Trois Pitons National Park to the crater known as Boiling Lake. You’ll hike through a dense forest of tall gommier trees, staring at the iridescent purple-throated hummingbirds as they keep you company. Relax your muscles afterwards 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, using Dominica’s wealth of fruits and vegetables for her meals. Suites start at $115 a night and swimming in the hot springs is clothing optional.  

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/22/12 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Nova Scotia Week, The Perfect Loop in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

There’s a reason Travel & Leisure magazine named Cape Breton the number one island destination in North America and third in the world. The landscape is a mesmerizing mix of rolling summits, precipitous cliffs, high headlands, sweeping white sand beaches, and glacially carved lakes, all bordered by the ocean. The Cabot Trail hugs the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the rugged northwestern edge of the island, where around every bend you want to pull over, spew expletives of joy at the stupendous vista, and take another snapshot. Indeed, it’s as close to Big Sur as the East Coast gets. Add bald eagles, moose, coyotes, and pilot whales fluking in the nearby waters and you want to leave the car behind and soak it all up. 

 
One of the most popular trails, Skyline, is a 9.2 km (5.7-mile) loop atop the ridge of a coastal headland. I took the 3-hour loop yesterday morning, when the rain that’s been following me the past two days subsided, replaced by blue skies and a trace of thin clouds. I veered right at the start to walk through a bog topped with pines and carpeted with moss. I took deep breaths of the sweet pines as I meandered over the roots and rocks on the grassy path. Eventually, the trail snakes to the left offering expansive views of the sea. At the halfway point, a boardwalk leads down the headland and wow, what a majestic stroll it is. To the left is a backbone of peaks, to the right is all ocean as far as your eye can see. I sat down on a bench and bit into my honeycrisp apple, watching a whale spout. It was hard to leave, but after having my fill, I made my way back on the loop. Within minutes, I was staring at a mother moose and her calf. Talk about icing on the cake. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/03/12 at 10:00 AM
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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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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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