Hiking Mt. Washington: 6 Months Pregnant

Hiking Mt. Washington: 6 Months Pregnant

“How long will my pregnant body keep letting me climb mountains?” I wasn’t sure what the answer was going to be, so I decided I better plan any big climbs sooner rather than later. That put Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in New England, at the top of my list. Mt. Washington is infamous for having some of the worst weather in the world, and I’ve hiked it in really nasty weather, but for this hike I watched and waited for a GOOD weather window.

Eventually the general forecast and Mt. Washington Higher Summits Forecast agreed that the weather would be perfect hiking weather so I prepared to head up to the Whites for the night and then get an early start to my hike the next morning. There was just one problem :( Pregnancy, even in the second trimester, sometimes comes with a side of nausea and vomiting, and the day I was planning to drive North to the Whites was one of those days when food was not agreeing with me… So instead of heading to the mountains, I curled up with my favorite electrolyte solution, and postponed my hike.

Luckily by the next day I was feeling fine again, and miraculously the weather on Mt. Washington for the following day looked agreeable, so I only had to delay my trip by a day.

Trip Report: Solo Mt. Washington Loop @ 24 Weeks Pregnant

  • Date: July, 2021
  • Activity: Solo Day Hiking
  • Difficulty Level: Strenuous
  • Trail Name(s): Mt. Washington Loop Via the Ammonoosuk and Jewell Trails (~9.2 miles total, ~3,809′ elevation gain)
    • Ammonoosuk Ravine Trail to Lakes of the Clouds Hut (3.1 miles, difficult)
    • Crawford Path (AT) to the summit of Mt. Washington (1.5 miles, moderate)
    • Gulf Side Trail (AT) from the summit to the Jewell Trail (0.9 miles, easy)
    • Jewell Trail to the Ammonoosuk Ravine Trailhead (3.7 miles, difficult)
  • Location: , White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire
  • Access and Amenities: Parking available for a $5/day fee at the hiker parking lot. Outhouse available at the parking area.
The Ammonoosuk Ravine Trail starts of rocky and rooty, and stays that way.

Ammonoosuk Ravine Trail

I got an early start and was on the trail by 5:30 am. Although I was confident that I could still climb Mt. Washington, I wanted to give myself plenty of time so I could take whatever leisurely pace my body needed… Also, the weather for the morning looked better than the weather for the afternoon.

Although the Ammonoosuk is either rocky, rooty, or both from start to finish, the first mile of trail from the parking area to the side trail to Marshfield Station (and the Cog) has very little elevation gain and is generally easy and went by quickly. From there, the trail follows the Ammonoosuk River another relatively easy mile (gaining about 500ft elevation) to Gem Pool and cascade. I knew from there the trail was going to get quite a bit steeper, so I stopped to take a break, eat a snack, and adjust my layers.

At the pool I ran into another solo female hiker that was going about the same speed as I was, who was also stopping for a snack.

“You know, the best cascade of the trail is just a little bit further up, on an unmarked side trail to the right. Have you ever checked that one out?” she asked. Although I’ve hiked the Ammonoosuk Ravine Trail at least a dozen times, I was usually hiking it in the winter and couldn’t recall having ever checked it out before.

“I’ll check it out,” I smiled as I headed up the trail and she stayed at the pool to finish her snack. Although it was less than 0.2 miles (my GPS said 0.16 miles and ~300 feet of elevation gain) from the pool to the unmarked trail, it was steep and my new friend caught up with me well before I got there.

“Would you like to pass?” I asked, “You’re definitely going faster than I am on this steeper stuff.”

“No, I should slow down,” she replied, “if you don’t mind the company, I’ll join you for a bit.”

I told her I didn’t mind the company, and before long we came to the cutoff for the waterfall. The trail to the waterfall was a couple of hundred feet long and downhill the whole way, but I was curious and my new friend highly recommended it. It turns out she was right, it was definitely worth the detour. The photos don’t do it justice. The cascades start a couple of hundred feet up and tumble down two paths into a pool where the trail comes out, and you can see that the cascade continues out of sight below you as well. It is easy to imagine it’s path cascading the rest of the way down to the Gem Pool.

We took a moment to take in the waterfalls and photograph each other before heading back to the main trail and the climb ahead of us.

There’s no doubt that as each week in my pregnancy passes I get slower and slower going uphill, but it was such a phenomenally gorgeous day that I didn’t want it to go by too quickly anyway. Besides, it was nice having the company of a new friend to talk with as I climbed.

As we emerged above tree line we were met with phenomenal views and the added bonus of an array of wild flowers in bloom.

It seemed strange to see flowers where I was used to seeing ice. However, the trail felt just as steep in the exposed sections in the summer as it does in the winter when it is covered in ice and requires crampons. Even though it is steep, I was reminded that one of the great things about the Ammonoosuk is the distinct lack of boulder fields you frequently encounter on other routes up Mt. Washington.

Once we got above treeline, the rest of the distance to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut went by quickly.

Crawford Path (The AT)

We stopped at the hut, ate snacks, rested, refilled out water bottles, and used the restrooms before setting off on Crawford Path (aka the AT) for the remaining 1.5 miles climb to the summit.

I was still in awe of our luck with the weather. When I had hiked this section of trail on my AT thru-hike in 2013 it was cold, windy, and foggy… I was lucky if I could see 10 feet in front of me. Today, however, the weather was perfect. Sunny and warm, but not to hot, and most amazingly of all there was almost zero wind! In short, it’s the kind of weather that is almost unheard of on Mt. Washington.

The view looking back at Lakes of the Cloud Hut and Mt. Monroe

The trail to the summit was rocky but relatively easy, but it was uphill and I was still moving fairly slowly. The weather was so nice, and we’d gotten an early enough start that we could linger above tree line appreciating the views and not have to worry much about the time.

The Summit

Surprisingly, we hadn’t run into much in the way of crowds on the trail even though it was a Saturday with gorgeous weather. That changed, however, when we reached the summit. Between visitors from the Cog Railway and the Auto Road, the summit itself was absolutely mobbed… Although I expected it to be crowded, it’s been a very long time since I’ve been on top of Mt. Washington on a beautiful sunny summer weekend and I had no idea that nowadays you have to stand in line if you want to take your photo at the sign on the summit.

I took one look at the summit line and decided I’d skip it. However, my new friend convinced me that the line would move quickly and since I’d hiked all the way up to the summit I might as well take the extra breather, wait in the line, and do the summit photo thing. It turns out she was right, it wasn’t too long a wait, and I was glad I did it.

Although my original plan had been to descend via the same route I’d come up, with the option of climbing Mt. Monroe on the way down, I’d been tempted to descend via the Gulf Side Trail (the AT) and then the Jewell Trail to check it out. My friend’s original plan was to descend via the Cog railway, but it was so nice out she decided she was going linger above tree line and hike down via the AT and Jewell Trail. Unsurprisingly, by the time we’d finished our snacks at the summit we’d decided to hike down together.

The Gulf Side Trail (The AT)

Leaving the summit along the Gulf Side Trail we immediately got rid of the crowds and found ourselves enjoying the views of the alpine meadows and spectacular views of the Northern Presidential Range. We couldn’t complain. In addition, my new hiking buddy was a birder, and she pointed out some rare alpine birds as we meandered down the trail towards the Jewell Trail.

The Jewell Trail

By the time we got to the trail junction for the Jewell Trail, the trail had become quite rocky and I remembered my parents advice:

“You don’t want to go that way! It’s a nasty boulder field. Been there, done that, would not do again.”

It turns out my parents were right, the top part of the Jewell Trail is definitely a slog through a boulder field. I was definitely glad that I’d put both of my ankle braces on for extra support, and that I had my trekking poles with me. Also, I was glad to be going DOWN the boulder field and not UP it. I think if I’d been going up it would have felt like the boulder field went on FOREVER.

Hiking through the boulder field on the Jewell Trail

As it was, it was slow going, but my joints felt fine and I was so glad to be above tree line and having a spectacular hike that I didn’t mind too much.

By the time the trail descended below tree line the boulder field subsided into the standard rocks and roots that you’d expect of a New England trail. So I would say that the trail from there was relatively good, but I was definitely getting tired.

The final mile of trail from the junction for the Marshfield Station to the Trailhead Parking lot was some of the most easy going trail you’ll find in the Whites. Despite that, my feet were decidedly sore… more sore than they’d been in a long time, and I was looking forward to getting off of my feet, eating a ginormous meal, taking a shower and heading to bed.

Although I was exhausted from the days hike, by the time I’d driven back to my refuge for the night I was already starting to plan my next hiking adventure… Surely if I could climb Mt. Washington while pregnant I could get in some more backpacking this summer too ;)

Hiking Mt. Lafayette: 5 Months Pregnant

Hiking Mt. Lafayette: 5 Months Pregnant

Patches standing on top of Mt. Lafayette looking back at the ridge sporting a shirt that says "Future Hiker" with a picture of the ultrasound of the baby girl I'm carrying with me everywhere I go.

I’m pregnant! So to celebrate being half-way through my pregnancy (20 weeks out of 40), I decided to take a hike along one of my favorite sections of the Appalachian Trail: the section along Franconia Ridge in NH. It is a beautiful ridgeline hike that traverses three peaks including two 4000 footers (Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln) and can be accessed as a challenging, but worthwhile, day hike via the Mt. Lafayette Loop.

Though the hike is absolutely gorgeous, it is generally rated as a difficult/strenuous hike both in terms of length (~8.8 miles), total elevation gain (~3900′), and terrain (steep and rocky). Given the extra weight and extra dose of fatigue that I was experiencing from my second trimester, I figured it would be a challenge, but I was looking forward to seeing how it would go. Besides, I’d just come from my 20 week ultrasound and couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate the healthy baby girl I was carrying than to carry her up some of my favorite mountains :)

Trip Report: Mt. Lafayette Loop

  • Date: June, 2021
  • Activity: Solo Day Hiking
  • Difficulty Level: Strenuous
  • Trail Name(s): Mt. Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Loop (~8.8 miles total)
    1. Falling Waters Trail (3.2 miles) from the parking lot to the summit of Little Haystack (4760′)
    2. Appalachian Trail (1.6 miles) from the summit of Little Haystack to the summit of Mt. Lafayette (5260′)
    3. Greenleaf Trail (1.1 miles) from the summit of Mt. Lafayette to Greenleaf Hut)
    4. The Old Bridle Path (2.9 miles) from Greenleaf Hut to the parking lot
  • Location: Franconia Notch State Park, White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire
  • Access and Amenities: Easy parking available. Restrooms consist of a couple of outhouses. Usually the smell is bad, and with pregnancy hormones in full swing I couldn’t get near them without getting nauseous and almost puking.

Falling Waters Trail

  • Difficultly Level: Strenuous – steep, rocky uphill ascending 2800 feet in 3.2 miles. 

The falling waters trail starts out as a relatively gentle hike following a scenic cascading stream (Dry Brook) with a number of waterfalls interspersed throughout the first part of the hike. The first is Stairs Waterfall (~0.8 miles from the parking lot; ~15 feet tall), which is near the beginning of the hike.

Stairs Waterfall, Falling Waters Trail, NH

However, as you continue to ascent the trail gets steeper and rockier until you reach Cloudland Falls (~1.4 miles from the parking lot; ~80 feet tall).

Cloudland Falls on the Falling Waters Trail in NH
Cloudland Falls, Falling Waters Trail, NH

Above Cloudland Falls, the trail is rocky and steep, and definitely a good work out… especially carrying the extra body weight associated with being 20 weeks into my pregnancy.

Then, of course, as the terrain got steeper and rockier my trusty trekking pole snapped in half. I looked at it a bit forlornly, since if ever there was a time I needed my trekking poles, it was for hiking 4000 footers while pregnant. However, I couldn’t complain too much… my poor trekking pole had survived my entire CDT thru-hike and had stood me in good stead for more than 3500 miles of hiking and backpacking. Nevertheless, I needed to figure out a solution because climbing without a trekking pole wasn’t going to work for me. I sat down, ate a snack, and quickly concluded that I could splint my trekking pole as if it was a broken leg. So I found three sticks, pulled out my duct tape, and got to work. Before long I had a functioning trekking pole. It was definitely heavier than the other trekking pole, but it would do :)

Broken trekking pole splinted together with sticks and duct tape.
Broken trekking pole splinted together with sticks and duct tape.

I have to admit that there were a couple of times on the ascent that I wondered what in the world had possessed me to make me decide to hike such a momentous mountain to celebrate my 20th week of pregnancy, but when I reached the summit of Little Haystack all of that melted away. I was nothing but excited to be on top of the world, and carrying a baby girl :)

Standing on top of Little Haystack with my “Future Hiker” looking across at Mt. Lafayette

Appalachian Trail (Franconia Ridge Trail)

  • Difficultly Level: Moderate, some ups and downs 

The stretch of trail between Little Haystack and Mt. Lafayette is just gorgeous, and I was excited to be there. I stopped to rest, eat a snack, and with a gigantic smile on my face approached a few strangers to ask them if they’d be willing to take a picture of me.

Getting ready to set off on one of my favorite stretches of trail.

Then I set off along the trail, taking my time to soak in the views and the beautiful day, and stopping to take pictures along the way. In general, it felt great to be out on the trail and hiking, but I was definitely much slower on the up hills than I usual am.

Even though I was doing the hike as a solo adventure, I ended up having the same pace across the ridge as another group of hikers. Like me, they were stopping and taking lots of pictures, but they were generally slowed down due to a leg injury. As we made our way across the ridgeline we became friends. I gave them an ace bandage to help with their leg injury, and they offered to take a couple of pictures of me with their fancy camera set-up. (Thanks to www.billyhickeyphoto.com for the three photos of me below!)

Greanleaf Trail

  • Difficulty Level: Relatively easy

After stopping for a snack at the summit, I descended to Greenleaf hut with my new friends. I regaled them with tales of my thru-hikes and other adventures and on the relatively easy Greenleaf Trail the time flew by. We were at Greanleaf hut before we knew it.

At the hut we fulfilled our dreams of ice cold lemonades, which were available for a small fee. One of the members of the group had some blisters to deal with, and I decided I would take my own advice and deal with some foot issues of my own. One of the things that happens with pregnancy is that your hair and nails grow faster than usual. This had happened to me, and one of my toenails was jamming into my foot on the downhill and needed to be trimmed before continuing onwards.

The Old Bridle Path

  • Difficulty Level: Strenuous – steep, rocky uphill

With a belly full of snacks and lemonade and much more comfortable feet, I began the downhill keeping pace with the group. Unfortunately, barely 1/4 mile down from the hut I had a misstep, my ankle rolled a little bit, and I slid down onto my butt in a less than graceful way. Thankfully I’d tweaked my ankle and hadn’t sprained it! The whole group stopped to make sure that I was ok. I assured them that I was, but that I was going to have to take a break to deal with my ankle and that they should keep going on their own. Not only did I need to wrap my ankle, I was going to have to slow down my pace and acknowledge that I was more fatigued than I realized.

Thankfully, I’d brought two ankle braces as well as two knee braces and the ace bandage with me on the hike. I’d read that during pregnancy the body releases more of a hormone called relaxin, which helps loosen ligaments and can destabilize your joints a bit, so I’d come prepared. I settled in to lace my ankle into it’s fancy brace and waved goodbye to my new found friends.

Before long I was once again slowly making my way down the trail and enjoying the lingering views that the Old Bridle Path had to offer. Part way down, I noticed a little instability in my other ankle. Not wanting to risk tweaking or spraining it I immediately took a break, ate a snack, and put on the second ankle brace.

I was glad I did. It stabilized my ankle and made me so much more comfortable that without realizing it my pace increased, and I made it back to my car at the base of the mountain before I knew it.

All in all, it was an amazing hike and a great way to celebrate the baby on the way!

The image from my 20 week ultrasound that I created a t-shirt out of to climb Mt. Lafayette

MakerMask: A New Adventure

I never thought my own struggles with occupational asthma or MacGyvering back-country masks for wildfire smoke on the PCT (2014) and CDT (2018) would come in handy in a global health crisis, but here we are…

I am putting to good use a decade of research and background into respiratory health, the science of particle sizes, models of particle dispersal patterns, depth of penetration into the lungs, and a very personal relationship with N95s to work with a team of volunteers on the MakerMask project.

Early in March (right after my last post), I started making and fit-testing prototypes for science-driven mask designs. On March 17th, I mailed four prototypes to @ATOR Labs in Florida for preliminary lab validation. Today, MakerMask has two patterns on our website – makermask.org — and a third design in the pipeline.

MakerMask Prototype Development

“MakerMask: Fit” and “MakerMask: Surge” prototype development using NWPP from a New England Patriots bag. After discovering most elastics for home sewers include latex and don’t withstand sterilization, more recent models use latex-free cloth ties.

Four key lessons:

  1. Nonwoven polypropylene (NWPP) provides better droplet protection than cotton, which is especially relevant in a droplet-transmitted pandemic. NWPP is the material of choice for commercial medical-grade masks. Water-resistant NWPP outer layers block the droplets that can carry viruses from coughs and sneezes, while allowing for vital airflow. Reusable grocery bags are an accessible source of NWPP.
  2. Certified N95 masks with valid fit tests are a critical resource for our front line communities, and the supply chain for those materials is stretched thin. Single layer NWPP covers can extend the lifetime of our limited stocks of commercial-grade masks.
  3. Latex-free designs are important, especially in clinical settings. Cloth ties or bias tape have advantages over elastic straps b/c they don’t contain latex allergens and can be sterilized without heat damage. Look for designs that can be home-sterilized by boiling before community use or be sterilized in autoclaves for larger scale use.
  4. This impacts all of our communities; we all can help; and I need your help. In addition to sewists, MakerMask is seeking volunteer team members to help with mask testing, communications, project management, and IT. I also need help from fellow researchers, clinicians, and friends who can use these masks and help get the word out about the importance of science-driven, clinically relevant designs. Check out https://makermask.org/contribute/ if you can offer help!

Thank you and stay safe!

"MakerMask: Surge"

The MakerMask:Surge, shown here in the snow last week was designed to provide droplet protection, to be latex-free, home sterilizable, and relatizely easy to construct.

Links with MakerMask in the News:

 

Face Masks & Respirators: Insights from An Asthmatic Adventurer

Face Masks & Respirators: Insights from An Asthmatic Adventurer

Wearing my N-95 on the CDT

Wearing my Vogmask N-95 respirator during my 2018 CDT thru-hike.

As COVID-19 sweeps across the globe (click here for the latest numbers from the WHO), there is a sudden spike in interest in the use of face masks and respirators for personal use and as personal protective equipment (PPE). Masks/respirators are specifically designed for different tasks, and like most safety gear, they are only effective if you know what to use, when to use them, and how to use them. In this post I share info about:

  1. Masks/respirators: COVID-19 (click here for WHO guidance (pdf): Rational use of personal protective equipment for COVID-19)
  2. Masks/respirators: Personal Use and Backpacking (including a review of the Vogmask N99 that I carried on my CDT thru-hike)

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Escalante Petrified Forest – Solo Winter Adventures in Utah (Day 2)

Escalante Petrified Forest – Solo Winter Adventures in Utah (Day 2)

Sleeping Rainbows

Two logs of petrified wood (purple, yellow, orange, and red) in the snow at the low-point of the Sleeping Rainbows Trail

Rock-hounding is strictly forbidden. Collecting petrified wood and/or rocks of any kind within the boundaries of Escalante Petrified Forest is strictly forbidden. As of 2020, there are plenty of places in Utah where you can go and respectfully collect small amounts of petrified wood for your personal collections (click here for details or check with local BLM offices), but this is not one of them.

Trip Report: Escalante Petrified State Forest

  • Date: January 28, 2020
  • Activity: Winter Day Hiking
  • Day-Use Fee: $8, payable at self-pay station
  • Trail Name(s): Petrified Forest and Sleeping Rainbows Loop (1.75 miles total)
    1. Petrified Forest Trail (1 mile loop), rapidly ascends 200 feet before winding lazily across a mesa littered with petrified wood; Trail Conditions: a muddy mess with occasional intervals of snow and ice; I recommend avoiding it on warm (above freezing) afternoons and in the spring
    2. Sleeping Rainbows Trail ( 0.75 miles) loop off of the Petrified Forest Trail at the top of the mesa; this rougher, less-trafficked trail steeply descends off of the back of the mesa to an overlook before rapidly returning to the top of the mesa and the Petrified Forest Trail. Trail Conditions: a steep snowy scramble with fresh untracked snow of variable depths (2″ and 24″) between rocks and boulders (spoiler alert: some of the boulders are petrified wood).
  • Location: Southern Utah between Bryce Canyon National Park and Capital Reef National Park (Two miles northwest of the town of Escalante off State Route 12). Address: 710 N. Reservoir Road, EscalanteUT 84726
  • Access and Amenities (winter): Parking lots were plowed and completely empty, roads were mostly plowed. The reservoir was completely frozen with 8″ thick ice, so I was surprised to find functioning water spigots even though the temperatures were above freezing (I hosed off my very muddy boots before returning to my car)
    • Campgrounds: Open and 100% empty ($20 per night, $28 for RVs/hook-ups);
    • Visitor Center: Closed the entire day I was there

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