Finding a Cave

Mid-November my hiking buddy decided we should explore Thorne Head Preserve in Bath. She had read an article recently about a cave in the preserve and she wanted to check it out. My crazy side did think it would be interesting to check this out but my sensible side decided to remind her about the weather. Was she aware that a) the high temperatures for the day would be in the lower 20s and b) the wind gusts were predicted to be in the 20 mph range? I wasn’t overly concerned about the wind chill factors since I could always layer my clothing and the exercise would warm me up soon enough. I was more concerned about traipsing through the woods on such a blustery day. Trees were known to topple over on excessively windy days. I don’t remember how she managed to change my mind but soon enough we were headed down to Bath in order to find a cave.

Since it looked like the cave itself was not located on any specific trail but nestled between the Narrows and Ridge Runner trails it really didn’t matter how we decided to get there. One possibility would be to take the Whiskeag Trail to the Narrows Trail and then follow that around to the Ridge Runner Trail. The other, more direct route would be to walk the Overlook Trail to the Ridge Runner Trail. Needless to say, we took the longer, less direct route.

Shortly after entering the woods, my friend decided to explore off trail for a bit. While I stayed on the trail, I watched all the lovely conifers swaying in the wind. Soon I heard my buddy exclaim that the creaking sound was a nearby tree that had started to split. I thought of my earlier warning about walking through the woods on a blustery day but decided that maybe we should just speed up the pace a bit instead.

After averting the potential disaster of splitting trees, we settled into a rhythm of finding the next trail marker and just enjoying our time in the woods. The frigid temperatures had created some significant frost heave, and as a result, the ground crunched beneath our feet.

We must have gotten lost in our conversations, or the natural beauty around us but somehow we went off course at one of our intersections. The funny thing was that we both had noted the sign where the Narrows Trail met the Whiskeag Trail but we both forgot that when we started out we had decided that was the trail we needed to take. Instead of turning right, we turned left and continued along the Whiskeag Trail. We kept walking until one of us realized that we had been going on a long time and had not reached our destination. In fact, when we saw some boundary markers we knew we had made a wrong turn and needed to turn around. It took us about a thirty minutes to retrace our steps. Along the way we had to cross at least one rickety bridge (well I crossed the rickety bridge, my friend climbed down into the gully and up the other side). When we reached the sign for the Narrows Trail we couldn’t believe that we had made such an obvious mistake.

The trail kept close to the water at this point and the wind coming off the water was bitter cold. We soon saw a ledge and I commented on the ice floe coming down the ledge. I also pointed out to my buddy that I thought that might be her cave up there but she wasn’t so sure. After following the ledge around and climbing up via the Mushroom Cap Trail, we soon found the Ridge Runner Trail. I pointed out a small side trail that I thought might lead to the cave. The trail looked a little too steep for me, so I let my friend explore telling her to take a picture of the ice floe. It wasn’t long before I heard “your expletive ice floe is in front of my cave”!  Well, she found her cave anyway.

We took the Overlook Trail back to the parking area where I got more grief when she realized the Overlook Trail had been only 10 minutes from the cave. Okay, so it took us 2 hours using the indirect route but we did spend a great time outdoors.


Mystery Trail – Take 2

Our second hike during Veteran’s Day Weekend was to explore the unmarked trail nearby. We had hiked this unknown territory in the Spring but this time we decided that when we reached the official blazed trail, our adventure would take us in the opposite direction.

The day was clear but the night time temperatures had settled down into the 20s. It was enough to leave ice bells on the leaves that were hit by the spray from the water cascading down the hill. Once in the woods, we continued along the obvious pathway towards the rock face that we knew we had to climb. Only this time, we got a little confused and could not determine the way up. It is amazing how different things look in a different season! Eventually, we made our way up to the ledge and were able to continue on our way.

Even with all the vegetation stripped for the year, we were still able to discern a viable trail. When things began to look all the same, once again we found the pink ribbons to help us continue along the way. As we searched for each successive marker, we did occasionally have to find a work around over some pretty wet areas. The very wet Autumn had created numerous streams in this area of the woods.

Eventually, we reached an intersection with another trail but we were not quite sure this was what we were looking for. It took us a little while to find the blue blazes designating the trail. The painted markers had become faded over time and were in need of some freshening up. When we reached what appeared to be a newly laid bog bridge, we knew we were headed in the right direction.

Not far from the bridge, the stream meandered around a large boulder. One side of it was worn flat and the trees flanking the rock on this side just seemed to give it a certain symmetry. We admired the artwork for a bit before heading on. At some point, the trail followed the base of one of the mountains. The ledge slopping down to where we eventually wanted to go. I noticed a beautiful ice flow along the top of the ridge.

If I had thought that climbing up a small rock pile on an unmarked trail was difficult, I had forgotten about the nasty habit of some officially marked trails to have blazes directing adventurers to perform some super human feat. It wasn’t long before we found a blue marker painted on a boulder pointing straight up. My first thought was “you have got to be kidding” before looking for the best place to work my way up the hill. It was tricky and I did slip at one point but we did make it up to a place where we had views of the town below us and the ocean beyond that. We did not make it to our official end point since I was done climbing up rocks and was worried about heading back down.

It had taken us a little less than 2 hours to reach our little lookout spot. The way back took us about an hour and 30 minutes, including the stop to study an interesting tree with a twisted bark and pointed hook at the end.



Trees Trail – Tanglewood

October was proving to be a very wet month, so when the rains finally let up we wanted to get in a walk but also leave time for some outside work around the property. This meant we would need to explore something close by. We studied our local trail maps and decided to investigate the Trees Trail at Tanglewood, a path we had never studied during our numerous trips to this area.

Our map indicated that we needed to walk down Tanglewood Road towards the 4-H camp until we reached a side trail that would take us to the desired path. After walking for some time, we found a lane that seemed to lead to some maintenance sheds. Since this didn’t seem right, we continued down the road but soon found that we were very near the camp. With the camp on one side, I looked towards the other direction and spotted an information tablet in the woods. Clearly we had missed the trail, so we headed back towards the alley that led to the maintenance sheds, explored the area around the sheds and soon discovered a sign for the Trees Trail behind some rusted equipment.

Strolling along this wooded lane, we discovered that the interpretive signs that I had seen were explanations of forest growth and management. The earliest reference I could find for this self-guided tour of forest sustainability was 2006. I don’t remember if the signs were dated but they were fairly weather-beaten and in one case unreadable. Still, we enjoyed the descriptions and the slower pace gave us amble opportunity to discover beauty in the world around us.

Hidden underneath some leaves, I found a perfect mushroom. This surprised me since the nights had gotten very cold and I assumed this would have caused any lingering mushrooms to call it quits for the season. In fact, during our walk, we found a few puddles with a very thin layer of ice along the top.

During one section of our tour, we were informed of an American Chestnut restoration project. Twenty five trees were planted around 2002. My husband and I counted about a half dozen healthy trees still remaining.

When we had started our adventure, we had discussed where we intended to wander during our visit. I had mentioned the Trees Trail loop and made a casual aside about heading over to the river before deciding the loop was probably sufficient. Unfortunately there was a miscommunication, so when we reached the top of the loop (which placed us right across from the camp and the point where we had turned around while looking for this trail), I was studying the map trying to figure out where the loop continued while my husband thought I was looking for the Turner Falls Trail. I kept studying the map, looking for landmarks, turning the map and myself around and around until my husband stopped me. From the map, it looked like the trail looped near the water tower but I couldn’t find it. I walked a few yards to my right only to discover…the water tower. Okay, so I am not always very observant. In any case, we never did find the other section of the loop. Instead we ended up on the Turner’s Falls trail heading towards the river.

We walked along the river for a bit before turning towards the Forest Loop Trail via the River Trail and back to the car. It had been a great morning spent outdoors and we still had an afternoon left to complete our chores.

The Promised Story

As promised from my last post, there was a story for another day concerning my shoulder. Four years ago, my daughter and I were exploring Merrill Payson Park when I fell. I probably should have gone directly to an orthopedist but I took the exercises my doctor gave me, used a combination of ice and heat and in a few weeks my arm felt better. Over the next four years, it still bothered me when I overdid certain things but a few days of rest and I could continue on.

Then something changed over this past summer. Perhaps it was the large amount of quilting I did over this last year, or maybe it was the additional hours I picked up at work which involved a bit of lifting and twisted, but I do know that by the time we put the kayaks in the water I could not get out of Barrett’s Cove due to the pain and weakness in my arm. My kayaking days seemed to be over since my husband refused to tow me around the lake. A visit to the orthopedist showed that I had a complete tear of the rotator cuff with quite a bit of retraction. The assumption was that the tear occurred four years ago, and now with the amount of retraction was deemed irreparable. Since I still had 100% flexibility in the arm  a replacement was not in my immediate future. It was deemed that physical therapy would hopefully strengthen the arm and reduce the pain.

This set back would not deter my hiking explorations. In fact, this blog began as a demonstration of working through the challenges after my hip replacement. So, the week after our doctor’s visit we climbed Hogback Mountain. We also added a few strenuous hikes during the Veteran’s Day Weekend, although using trees and rock crevices to pull myself up probably did not help my shoulder.

Our first hike of that weekend was the Maiden Cliff Trail. I have always found this a difficult trail due to the steepness of the climb and the rocky terrain. When you add the wet leaf cover during the autumn months and the fact that the rain over the last two months had turned part of the trail into a river, the climb became more difficult. I was ready to turn around at the large boulder where the Maiden Cliff Trail intersects with another trail but I decided to go beyond my limits and struggle to the top. At this point, the hike became a matter of climbing stone steps and ledge before it leveled out near the top.

We sat for a few moments while I contemplated my situation and I found I still had a lot to be grateful for. Instead of bemoaning the situation I can still get out and find some beauty in the world. There is my husband who takes care of me, always accompanies me on these difficult hikes and sometimes pushes me to go beyond my limits (And at the end of the day, he provides me with wonderful meals). I am also grateful for my walking / hiking buddies who are willing to go anywhere with me and the weekly meeting with a friend I can use as a sounding board. As long as I can still do some quilting every day, even if it is just 30 minutes, I can still find a sense of achievement at the end of the day. And of course there are my daughters. I find joy in hearing about their adventures and achievements. In other words, it is the little things that bring so much joy to our lives. May we all remember to give thanks every day!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hogback Mountain

Even though several blustery days had swept most of the vibrant colors off the trees, there was still quite a bit of green mixed in with the rusty remains. Thinking that there might still be some inspiring sights to behold, I recalled that someone had told me a year back that the views from the top of Hogback Mountain during the autumn months was well worth the hike. The trail seemed a bit ambitious for us but it was a nice day so we decided to give it a try.

As mentioned in a previous post, we discovered that many times road signs were non-existent, so it was essential to use the odometer to determine turning points. In this case, the land trust directions indicated we could park at the Fish and Wildlife maintenance lot on Walker Ridge Road, a side road along Route 220, 6.5 miles past Route 3. Which brings me to another reason to rely on mileage points, Google maps list this road as “Not Town Road”.

Once we located the parking area on Walker Ridge Road, we studied the kiosk at the trailhead. On this side of Route 220, the Jeep Trail would take us through the woods back towards the road where we could cross and continue on the Hogback Trail or we could continue on this side of the road for 2.8 miles until we reached the Fry Mountain Loop. Taking on an 8 mile hike was way more than we could do and not knowing what difficulty level we would add by walking along the Jeep Trail, we opted to walk along the road to the trailhead.

Once in the woods, we found the trail covered with about an inch of fallen leaves. Unfortunately, this blanket covered the fact that there were a lot of intertwined tree roots underneath, as well as rocks. The conditions over the last week had also left the earth underneath this ground cover slick in some places. Perhaps, we were careful on the uphill because we suffered no mishaps on the way up. I did comment that it was rather odd that during the beginning of the trail we seemed to be doing a lot of downhill walking in order to reach the summit. This didn’t bode well for the end of the return trip when we would have to walk uphill while we were tired from our journey.

Still, the woods were lovely and peaceful. Not far into our excursion, we found a large rock, named “piano rock” due to the flat top of the boulder and a smaller rock that resembled a bench. Further along, we discovered a trickle of water flowing down a series of rocks. The leaves around this small cascade warranted a stop to reflect on the natural gifts around us.

The trail switch-backed up the hill and sometimes the blue blazes were hard to locate. As we climbed, I started to become fatigued but I had my heart set on the views that I had heard about so I continued on. Eventually, the trail followed a dirt road for a bit before turning back into the woods and soon we found a spot that rewarded us some views of the mountains in the distance.

We decided to rest on a log along the side of what seemed to have been a road at one time. Our lunch spot afforded us some limited views of the mountains and an abandoned tractor nearby. Reflecting on this spot later and studying photos that others had posted, I realized that we probably did not summit Hogback Mountain, for I found reference to the “open ledges near the summit” and wide views. Clearly, we did not have lunch on an open ledge and we had narrow views of the mountains beyond. But we had done enough for one day, so we headed back down.

On the return trip, I slipped twice jarring an already sore shoulder (a story for another day). As predicted, the uphill portions at the end of the journey were a bit much. My husband offered that we stop a bit but I was afraid I would not want to continue, so I slogged on. Still, I was glad that we had attempted this trip that was a bit beyond our capabilities but now we will have to go back another day and actually summit.