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Hiking

Monday, February 28, 2011

Hiking Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica

“Follow me closely,” says our guide Kent Augiste as we make our final steps down the steep flanks of Morne Watt into the so-called Valley of Desolation. The landscape is a study of contrasts, from the rock slides that create the barren brown slopes to our right to the green mountain ridges straight ahead that rise dramatically from almost every viewpoint in Dominica. At the moment, however, it is the white smoke billowing up from the scorching stream at our feet that holds my interest. The smell of sulfur is overwhelming and the sounds of foamy, gurgling water doesn’t exactly instill confidence in my footing. I’m on Kent like an avocado clings to its branch on this nature isle. 

People flock to the Caribbean to sift their toes in the pearly white sands. But in Dominica, the attraction is not the relatively few beaches, 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, scuba dive and snorkel on living reefs, and sea kayak in sheltered coves with little if any boat traffic. Sure, you can still lounge with a good book, but it won’t be on an overdeveloped strip of sand. You’ll be high up in the hills on some small eco-resort balcony sipping fresh passionfruit juice and listening to the waves of the Atlantic crash onto the rocky shores below.

Dominica’s volcanoes might be dormant yet there’s still fire in the belly of this island. The Valley of Desolation was just one of the highlights on a 7-hour round-trip hike inside Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Kent led my climbing partner and me over muddy trails through a dense forest of tall gommier trees, used to make dugout canoes for 20 to 30 paddlers, and past the massive trunks and aerial roots of the banyan-like chatagnier trees, some more than 300 years old. As we made our ascent out of the darkness of the rainforest canopy, iridescent purple-throated hummingbirds kept us company as they stuck their heads into the tubular orange and red heliconia flowers.

At the far end of the Valley of Desolation, we climbed through chest-high vegetation along a river, then up and down a series of hills to finally arrive at the rim of the crater known as Boiling Lake. The second largest lake of its kind in the world, steam emanates from this cauldron of bubbling water where temperatures top out at 198 degrees Fahrenheit. “Don’t get too close to the edge,” said Kent as I peered down, wondering how many people met their demise in this unforgiving witch’s brew. 

Kent Augiste works for Ken’s Hinterland Tours, an outfitter that specializes in guided hikes all over the island. Hiking boots and an experienced pair of legs are advised for the somewhat strenuous Boiling Lake trek.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/28/11 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Now’s the Time to Visit Zion National Park

With winter daytime temperatures in the mid-50s, Utah's Zion National Park is a coveted off-season secret with hikers. The red and amber canyon walls that form a tower of massive rock is usually blanketed by snow at higher elevations (7,000 to 9,000 feet). Down at the 4,000-foot high Park Headquarters, however, all you’ll need is a decent pair of boots. Flurries rarely make it to these lower heights. A good warm-up near headquarters is the 2-mile round-trip Watchman Trail. Climbing to a plateau near the base of a twisted monolith, the trail offers views of lower Zion Canyon, the Towers of the Virgin, and West Temple formations. Far more impressive is a hike in the Narrows where you walk in the Virgin River through a 1,000-foot-deep-chasm that’s a mere 20 feet wide. You’ll need a wet suit and booties because of the cool water temperatures, but that’s a small price to pay to have this monster slot to yourself. If you have your heart set on cross-country skiing, head to the rarely visited Kolob section of Zion. Pinnacles project out of the high mesa floor that, at 7,000 feet, is covered with snow.  


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/22/10 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Top 5 Fall Foliage Picks in New England, Hiking a White Mountain, New Hampshire

The bugs are gone, the threat of a late spring snow washed away, and the leaves are already starting to change color. Not to mention, you don’t have to face the summer crowds on the trails. These reasons alone should make you want to fill up your water bottle, bag a lunch with requisite mackintosh apples and hit the Whites. Start with the Falling Waters trail up to the peak of 5,228-foot Mt. Lafayette. Strolling alongside a series of spectacular waterfalls, and then making the climb to a 1.7-mile ridge walk between two of the White Mountains' loftiest peaks, it’s no wonder this is one of the finest day hikes in New England. Grab some lemonade at the AMC’s Greenleaf Hut, or if you were wise, you booked a bunk for the night to savor the spectacular mountain panorama without rushing down. If you prefer a less strenuous hike, try Mt. Willard. In less than an hour, you’ll make it to the peak where jaw-dropping views of Crawford Notch stand below you, a reward for your accomplishment.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/01/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, August 23, 2010

One Helluva Climb

39 year-old Dan Nevins lost both his legs in Iraq. Neil Duncan, 26, had both his legs blown off in Afghanistan driving over a buried explosive in 2005. Kirk Bauer, 62, lost one of his legs in Vietnam. Together, the trio just finished climbing to the peak of 19,334-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. If you’re doing the math at home, that’s three men with a combined one leg they were born with. The six-day climb was part of Wounded Warrior Sports Challenge, a series of extreme adventures aimed at permanently disabled veterans. Designed by Disabled Sports USA, out of Rockville, Maryland, the company holds the same belief as me that adventure is the best form of therapy. Along with mountain climbs, they also feature a 26-mile run in the desert of New Mexico, scuba, sailing, and a 100-mile bike trek. Kudos to Dan, Neil, and Kirk for not only attempting but making it to the top!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/23/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, June 07, 2010

Maine Huts & Trails Begins Construction on Third Hut

Maine Huts & Trails, the nonprofit organization hoping to build 12 backcountry huts over 180 miles of trails in the remote western mountains of the state, has just announced the creation of their third lodging. Slated to be completed by the end of 2010, the hut will be built on the banks of the Dead River, two miles below the cascading waters of Grand Falls. Each of the three huts, including the Poplar Stream Falls and the Flagstaff Lake hut, are spaced about 11 miles apart, so people can reach it within one day of hiking. For less than $100 per person per adult and under $50 per children, each hiker gets a night’s sleep on a bed, hot showers, dinner, and breakfast. Not a bad way to be lost in this vast tract of wilderness, treasured for its mountains, large lakes, sinuous rivers, and waterfalls.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/07/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Long Trail Turns 100

On March 21, 1910, 23 avid hikers (or trampers as they were called at the time) sat in a room in Burlington, Vermont, and had the wacky idea to create the first long-distance hiking trail in America. The Green Mountains had been largely unappreciated, so James P. Taylor (1872-1949) made a promise that his group would “make the Vermont mountains play a larger part in the life of the people.” They called their organization the Green Mountain Club and remarkably finished a 273-mile long route that snakes through the Green Mountains the entire length of the state. The high-country trail is a narrow, unforgiving footpath in the wilderness that winds through the finest greenery of this sylvan state. A century later, as our leisure time becomes more and more diminished through overwork and lack of vacation time, the Long Trail seems too long for most of us.  Only 120 hikers took a month out of their life in 2009 to complete the entire route and become certified “end-to-enders” by the Green Mountain Club. If you ever wanted to take advantage of James P. Taylor’s dream, the centennial celebration would be a good time.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/18/10 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, May 14, 2010

Top 5 Mountain Climbs in the Northeast, Mt. Katahdin, 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 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 05/14/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Top 5 Mountain Climbs in the Northeast, Mt. Lafayette, New Hampshire

The strenuous climb up Mt. Lafayette is worthy of all accolades hikers bestow upon it.  With tumbling waterfalls, a steep ascent to three of the highest peaks in New England, and a 1.7-mile ridge walk where the spruce-studded White Mountains stand below you in a dizzying display of green, this very well could be the finest day hike in New England. 
   
Turn into the woods from the parking lot and I-93’s traffic is quickly replaced by the sounds of rushing water, compliments of a stream that accompanies you for a good mile and a half.  Three perfect falls swirl over smooth boulders to pools of water the color of gin, the ideal stop for a breather.  You’ll need your energy to get to the top of Little Haystack Mountain and the start of the Franconia Ridge Trail.  Part of the Appalachian Trail, this above-tree-line path offers a stunning panorama of New England’s highest summits, including Mount Washington.  Bag 5,108-foot Mount Lincoln and 5,249-foot Mount Lafayette before taking the Greenleaf Trail down the boulder littered slopes to AMC’s Greenleaf Hut. This deep-woods convenience store is great for lemonade refills before the trek back down. Or, better yet, grab a bunk and spend the night.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/12/10 at 01:00 PM
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Top 5 Mountain Climbs in the Northeast, Mount Willard, New Hampshire

If the thought of climbing a mountain makes you sweat long before leaving your car, wipe your brow and give 2,804-foot Willard a try. In less than an hour, you’ll make it to the peak where jaw-dropping views of Crawford Notch stand below you, a reward for your slight efforts. Not surprisingly, this easy climb is a favorite for families. 
   
The hike begins behind the Crawford Notch Visitor Center, former site of the Crawford railroad station. The trail starts off sharply but becomes more gradual as you criss-cross through a forest of dense pines. Eventually, sunshine seeps into the woods and you’ll reach a large opening, the light at the end of the tunnel. Look down from the rocky ledge at the old railroad line, carved into the mountainside, and the onslaught of cars that snake through Crawford Notch on Route 302. Then pat yourself on the back for climbing a White Mountain.
 

(Photo by Clyde Sisler)


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/12/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Top 5 Mountain Climbs in the Northeast, Mount Mansfield, Vermont

Bagging Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield, is a formidable challenge but certainly no strenuous climb like mighty Katahdin in Maine or the highest ascent in New England, Mt. Washington. It’s a steady ascent that rewards you with views of Lake Champlain in its entirety, Burlington, a 45-minute drive to the East, and the highest peak in New York, Mount Marcy. 

There are many ways up Mansfield. Families should opt for the Long Trail south from Route 108. A little steeper is the Laura Cowles and Sunset Ridge Trails from the backside at Underhill State Park. If you really want to test your mettle, go on the Hell Brook trail.  The unrelenting path starts from Route 108 at about 1900 feet and 1.3 miles later, you’ve hit the 4,000-foot mark. It’s a favorite of locals as evidenced by the number of Vermonters listed in the logbook at the trailhead. About 2 hours into the climb or the 1.3 mile mark, you’ll reach the so-called Adam’s Apple of the mountain. There’s also the Forehead and Nose of Mansfield, but for some reason The Chin, at 4,393 feet, is the highest point.  It must be one of those Yankee chins. 

See the story I wrote on hiking Mount Mansfield for The Boston Globe.

(Painting by Barbara Hamm)
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/11/10 at 01:00 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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