Hiking Killington Peak: 7 Months Pregnant

Hiking Killington Peak: 7 Months Pregnant

Climbing up the final steep, rocky ascent to Killington Peak while 29 weeks pregnant

Even though I’m seven months pregnant, it didn’t take much to talk me into climbing Killington Peak (one of Vermont’s 4000 footers). In fact, all my partner had to say was, “Hey Patches, do you want to climb a mountain?” My answer, of course, was “Yes! Which one?” The mountain he suggested was Killington (elev. 4242′) in Vermont.

The last time I’d climbed Killington was in 1998 on my thru-hike of the Long Trail (LT), so we did a quick check of the different trails to the summit. The Bucklin Trail, which approaches the peak from the West before joining up with the LT and the Appalachian Trail (AT) seemed like the best choice for our day hike. It would be an out-and-back hike of a little less than 8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of ~2400′.

Trip Report: Killington Peak Via Bucklin Trail

  • Date: August, 2021
  • Activity: Day Hiking – Out and Back
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Trail Name(s): Killington Peak (elev. 4242′) out and back via the Bucklin Trail and the AT (~7.8 miles total; ~3.9 miles each way)
    1. Bucklin Trail (3.4 miles) from the parking lot to the Appalachian Trail. The first two miles to Irene Falls is gently and easy. From there, the trail begins a steady moderate climb the rest of the way to the Appalachian Trail/Long Trail Junction.
    2. Long Trail/Appalachian Trail (0.1 miles) to Cooper’s Lodge and the Killington Spur. This stretch of trail is generally easy.
    3. Killington Spur (0.2 miles) to the Summit of Killington. The final push to the summit is rocky, steep, and strenuous, but it doesn’t last long.
    4. Trail J (0.2 miles) from the Summit down to Peak Lodge for a snack, water, and flush toilets! This trail is short and moderate and chock full of tourists when the gondola is running. On the plus side, you may be able to purchase food and beverages at the lodge.
  • Location: Wheelerville Rd, Mendon, VT
  • Access and Amenities: Parking area and trail kiosk. No restrooms or outhouses available. No fee.

As a pregnant hiker, I find that I am much slower while climbing mountains than usual, so we opted to do a three-day camping trip to Vermont with our climb of Killington bracketed in the middle so we could get an early start on our hiking day, and not have to worry about a long drive home after our climb.

Our glamping tent, set back into the woods in Vermont. I have to admit that I’ve really appreciated having a queen-sized cot in the glamping tent while pregnant. It is definitely easier than levering myself up and off the ground while backpacking.

Bucklin Trail (~3.4 miles; easy to moderate)

We arrived at the Bucklin Trailhead Parking a little bit before 10 am on Saturday morning and were pleasantly surprised to find the parking lot more than half empty.

As advertised, the first 2 miles of Bucklin Trail were fairly flat, wide, and easy, so they went by fast. However, the easy stuff came to an abrupt halt just after the “Irene’s Falls” sign 2.3 miles from the trailhead. From there, the trail veered away from the stream and started gaining elevation much more quickly, ascending nearly 2000′ in the next mile.

In this steeper section my pace slowed significantly. The extra weight of pregnancy definitely makes hiking harder. That and my uterus crowds both my diaphragm and my bladder so I get short of breath more easily AND I have to pee more often :-P However, we kept a slow and steady pace and eventually made it up the to junction of the Appalachian Trail/Long Trail.

Grinning ear-to-ear after finally merging onto the AT/LT section of the trail, reminiscing about my Long Trail thru-hike in ’98 and my AT thru-hike in ’13. It may be harder hiking while pregnant, but the trail still brings the same smile to my face that it always has.

LT/AT (~0.1 miles; easy)

Although we only followed the Appalachian Trail/Long Trail for a short distance, it was nice for me to visit the white blazes of my thru-hiking journeys.

The stretch of trail between the Bucklin Trail and Cooper’s Lodge (an AT shelter) was standard AT fare with plenty of rocks and roots, but didn’t gain much elevation.

Although we were eager to get to the summit and the views it offered, it was definitely time for a refueling break for me. So we stopped and ate some snacks/lunch lounging in the sun at the tent platforms behind Cooper’s Lodge (The spur trail to the summit of Killington is located behind the lodge, just passed the tent platforms.)

While we were there, we ran into some thru-hikers and I offered them some trail magic. I’d packed in half a dozen extra raspberry bear-claws and macaroons just in case we ran into hungry thru-hikers. During my 2013 AT thru-hike I was so hungry and so low on food that I hadn’t been able to climb the spur to the summit of Killington. Instead, a day hiker had offered me a snack and I’d headed straight to the Long Trail Inn and a long-awaited resupply… so it was extra special for me to be able to offer some of this year’s AT thru-hikers extra snacks. They each took a bear claw and a macaroon and headed to the summit.

The steep, rocky trail of the final ascent to the summit of Killington via the spur trail. It was definitely slow going.

Killington Spur (~0.2 miles; strenuous)

After resting and fueling, we were ready to tackle the final 0.2 miles of steep rocky trail to the summit. This section didn’t last long, but it definitely gave me a full body workout and was very slow going. It reminded me of a lot of the other trails to the summits of 4000 footers in New England. It still went by one step at a time, but each of those steps was much bigger. There were definitely places where I was using my hands/arms to help balance my body as I scrambled up and over the rocks of the trail.

Before long, the trail was steep enough and high enough that we could start to see spectacular views of the valley stretched out below us and we emerged onto some rocky outcroppings where we could stand, catch our breath, and take in the views. It was gorgeous.

However, we knew when we finally reached the summit because it was crowded with folks that had hiked the much shorter and more moderate 0.2 miles from the gondola to the summit. The summit was big enough for all of us, and it was such a spectacular view and a spectacular day that we didn’t mind sharing it. Also, it meant that we were able ask someone to take a photo of us at the summit.

Beyond the Summit (~0.2 miles)

After a short break at the summit, we decided to hike over to see if the Killington summit lodge was open. It was so nice out I was looking for an excuse to linger at the top of the mountain, and I was daydreaming about what kind of nice icy cold beverages might be available at the lodge.

The trail over to the gondola and lodge immediately dropped into the trees, but didn’t descend very far before opening up onto the grassy ski slopes. It was a little bit surreal after all our long hours of hiking to see the constant stream of people, mostly mountain bikers, emerging from the gondolas and spilling out onto the ski slopes. I’d heard that mountain biking on Killington was a thing, but hadn’t realized just how popular it was!

At the platform for the gondola they’d set out a sign that said “Ski Lodge Closed for Private Event”, however I wasn’t sure I believed the sign because I’d seen so many people hiking between with lodge and the summit with ice cold beverages. Since the lodge was just a couple of hundred feet further we decided to check it out anyway. Sure enough, the lodge was open. It turns out that the sign said open on one side and closed on the other side. They’d faced the open sign towards the gondola riders and hadn’t given any thought to the hikers that had come up the long way.

I was surprised at the number of different ice cold beers and microbrews were available at the Summit Lodge, but luckily there were a few nonalcoholic beverages available too… so I loaded up on cold drinks, ice cream, and chips and lingered a while longer near the summit before my partner nudged me and suggested that we should probably start heading back down. By that time it was already passed 3pm, and we was definitely right.

Bracing my ankles for the long downhill of the return hike

Heading Back Down

On the way day, we just reversed our steps. However, over the course of my pregnancy I’ve definitely noticed that my ankles have become more unstable, especially on the downhills. Having sprained my ankles more than enough times for one lifetime already, I pre-emptively wear BOTH of my heavy-duty lace up ankle braces when descending mountains while pregnant. I also carry both of my knee braces with me in cases my knees get cranky, but so far I haven’t had to use them.

In general, the descent was just long, slow, and careful. The steepest parts of the spur trail to the summit I essentially had to sit/slide down in parts because my center of gravity is a bit out of whack and I wanted to err on the side of not falling, but in general it wasn’t too bad.

We made it back to the car a little bit before 6pm, happy, tired, and hungry. Since it was getting late we decided to stop and get dinner at the McGrath’s Irish Pub at the Inn at Long Trail in Killington. I’d stopped there for dinner on my LT thru-hike (’98) and my AT thru-hike (’13), and it was the perfect way to finish our day hike in ’21.

A couple of happy hikers on the trail looking forward to new adventures..
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
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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Bryce – Solo Winter Adventures in Utah: Day 2

Bryce – Solo Winter Adventures in Utah: Day 2


The colorful pre-dawn light at Sunrise Point, showing the stark difference between the snowy Northern slopes, and the orange and red rocks and sands of the Southern slopes (Bryce Canyon National Park, January 28, 2020)

Watching the sunrise from the rim at Bryce Canyon National Park should be on your bucket list. I caught the sunrise both from the rim (Inspiration Point on Day 1) and below the rim among the hoodoos (Queen’s Garden Trail on Day 2). I recommend doing both.

Trip Report: Bryce Canyon National Park (Day 2)

  • Date: January 28, 2020
  • Activity: Winter Hiking, 2 separate day hikes
  • Weather: 3℉ at start; 17℉ at finish
  • Trail Name(s):
    1. Queen’s Garden Trail and Navajo Loop Combination (2.4 mile loop) including:
      • Queen’s Garden Trail (0.8 miles): I descended 320 feet and 0.6 miles on this trail, and then another 0.1 miles each way, out-and-back (0.2 miles) to the ‘Queen Victoria’ hoodoo; packed powder and ice, zero people
      • Queen’s Garden Trail to Navajo Loop (0.7 miles): snowier trail with less evidence of traffic, zero people
      • Navajo Trail to Sunset Point via 2 Bridges (0.4 miles): very crowded (dozens of people); icy; mountain lion tracks
      • Rim Trail: Sunset Point to Sunrise Point (0.5 miles) snowy; less crowded
    2. Mossy Cave Trail (1.0 mile): lightly trafficked trail with packed snow and ice; less crowded than the Navajo Loop Trail, fewer hoodoos, lots of history
  • Trail Conditions: Packed powder and  ice. Light traction (microspikes) recommended; mountain lion tracks on the Navajo Loop Trail and Mossy Cave Trail
  • Parking/Access: Roads and parking lots were plowed, but Rainbow Gate remained closed while I was there. Parking was easy.
  • Background about Bryce: For information about the history, geology, and terms used when discussing Bryce, see my previous post: What is Bryce Canyon? Hoodoo?


The sunrise from the snowy Queen’s Garden Trail, Bryce (camera: Sony α6000)

Sunrise Point

I woke up 10 minutes before my alarm went off, excited about getting up and out to Bryce to catch the sunrise despite the frigid temperature (3℉ / -16C). It was so cold that I didn’t expect much company at Sunrise Point. I was wrong. The overlook was jam-packed with folks with tripods waiting for a perfect sunrise shot of Bryce’s Amphitheater. It was too crowded for my taste, so I decided to hike down the trail just for a sec… to get away from the crowds… maybe just down to the first hoodoos?


The first rays of the sun hitting the hoodoos on the Queen’s Garden Trail (Sony α6000)

Queen’s Garden Trail

Sunrise below the rim was beautiful, and I had the trail to all to myself as I wended my way through the hoodoos, each one turning to gold as soon as it was hit by the rays of the sun. I was struck by the mythical beauty of it, imagining that I was walking through a valley of petrified giants, turned to gold by the Midas Touch of the sun. As I hiked, I tried to sort through the mash-up of folklore and stories that all seemed applicable, but it didn’t quite sum up to a coherent picture:

  • Petrified Giants: the Scottish and Cornish lore of my ancestors includes stories of landmarks formed by the petrification of giants who were turned to stone as punishment for their misdeeds (e.g. the giants that refused “to become Christians” that became The Stone Circle at Callanish, Isle of Lewis, Scotland and The Merry Maidens and The Pipers of Cornwall who were “turned into stone as punishment for dancing on a Sunday.”
  • Trolls: the modern lore of my geek culture includes stories of trolls that are turned to stone, petrified by sunlight (e.g. stone-trolls in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and the Netflix show Trollhunters)
  • King Midas and the Golden Touch: an ancient Greek myth about King Midas, who was blessed/cursed so that everything he touched turned to gold, including his daughter, as well as any food he tried to eat… so an example of golden petrification


Wandering through the golden castles of the Queen’s Garden Trail at Sunrise

At any rate, my cultural heritage strongly biased my imagination towards seeing petrified giants and cautionary tales. I was surprised when I later learned that the origin story of the area (attributed to the Paiute people, who lived in the area from ~1200s onward), shared a lot of similarities (see previous post for origin story).


Enjoying the golden rays of the rising sun as I descended into the Queen’s Garden.

With all of my expedition gear on (including my gigantic orange expedition jacket), I was unperturbed by the cold. However, the icy trail conditions slowed me down. My microspikes should have been on my feet, but they were in my car because I wasn’t planning on doing a hike. In theory, I was going to return to my car as soon as the sun came up…


The eroded giants and spires of the Queen’s Garden Trail, with the golden light of the sunrise glowing on the far walls of the Bryce Amphitheater.

Surprising absolutely no one, after the sun came up I decided to keep hiking instead of returning to my car… I figured I’d keep going, but just until I reached the ‘Queen Victoria’ hoodoo ;)


The Queen’s Garden Trail winding down through the snow, tunnels, walls, and hoodoos.

When I reached the ‘Queen Victoria’ hoodoo, I had trouble finding the Queen. I’d biased my imagination to see giants, with feet rooted to the valley floor and heads towering 50 to 150 feet above me. It turns out scale matters, and the queen was more of a cake topper than a giant. Eventually, after comparing the photo on the Queen’s Garden Benchmark with the hoodoos in front of me, I was able to imagine the vague resemblance of a Queen on top of a nearby hoodoo, but I’m not 100% sure I was looking at the right hoodoo. Regardless, I was thoroughly enchanted by the hoodoos and the landscape around me.


Hoodoos in the early morning light at the Queen’s Garden Benchmark in Bryce. Is ‘Queen Victoria’ in this photo? Was I looking the wrong direction? Hmmm…

The gorgeous golden light of the early morning kept enticing me further and further into the maze of hoodoos, so after checking out “Queen Victoria” hoodoo I decided to keep going and loop back to my car via The Navajo Loop and Sunset Point (instead of returning the way I came)… Besides, it wasn’t that much further…

Navajo Loop to Sunset Point


Muddy red tracks in the fresh white snow at the base of the Navajo Loop Trail

The first thing I noticed as I approached the Navajo Loop Trail were a set of tracks; muddy red paw prints in the bright white snow. From a distance I couldn’t see their shape clearly, and I assumed they were dog tracks (most tracks on trails with lots of human footprints are), but when I got close enough to see the shape clearly, I stopped in my tracks… mountain lion tracks?! As soon as I thought it, I began surveilling the area, checking to make sure there were no mountain lions on nearby cliffs, ledges, or in nearby trees. Once I was certain I was still alone, I leaned down to get a better look…

The palm of the print had three lobes to it, which I associate with mountain lion tracks, and the palm of the print was large (and wide) relative to the toes. It definitely looked like mountain lion tracks to me, but… claw marks? That’s unusual for mountain lion prints. I looked at a few more prints, at where they came from (the woods), their relationship to human prints (there was none), and I reviewed the possible critters with paws that size. Bear? Absolutely not, so then the question was canine or feline. Wolf? Nope. Coyote? No. Dog? Naw…. The overwhelming conclusion that I kept coming to was that the tracks were feline… Bobcat? No, the prints were too big. My final conclusion? Probably a young mountain lion.

So, what were the claw marks all about? *shrug* Probably for the same reason that the human prints in the area had, or should have had, “claw” marks; for extra traction in the deep muddy/slushy/icy/snowy conditions on the steep slope.


Switchbacks on the Two Bridges (Navajo Loop Trail) looking up towards the rim

I hiked up towards the rim with a heightened awareness of my surroundings. The mountain lion tracks were from the night before (after the last human traffic of the day, but before the overnight temperatures had completely frozen the red muddy mess on the southwestern slopes). However, they were recent enough that I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t still in the area somewhere. I have to admit, when I started to hear human voices echoing through the hoodoos, I was a bit relieved. By the sound of it, there were crowds of people on the trail above me, hidden from sight by the towering walls and hoodoos… Undoubtedly they would have scared any nearby mountain lions away… either that or they would have scared them in my direction…


The fin of rock towering over the switchbacks of the Navajo Loop Trail.

As I rounded the next corner, I was met with a shriek… There was a woman in a magenta pink hat frozen in her tracks in front of me, followed half a second later by her hiking partner (pale as a ghost). I looked at them quizzically as I scanned the area, trying to figure out what had terrified them, but didn’t see anything startle worthy.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “It’s just…”

“We thought you were a cougar,” the guy with her continued.

“Ummm,” I hesitated, partially confused because I was wearing my gigantic fluorescent orange jacket and incredibly hard to miss, and partially because my friends occasionally tease me about being a cougar.

“It’s just you’re the first person we’ve seen all day,” she continued quickly, “and we’ve been following the tracks and …” she trailed off, pointing to the tracks.

“Oh yeah,” I nodded, realizing that though I’d heard them coming from a mile away, they hadn’t had any warning of my approach… It’s a lot easier to be stealthy when you’re hiking solo. As their heart rates returned to normal, we chatted a bit about the tracks. They’d figured that they were bobcat tracks, but I was pretty sure they were too big to be bobcat. Either way, we were all happy to encounter humans going the opposite direction, since we were less liking to meet a mountain lion lurking around the next corner.

Thor's Hammer at Bryce

The ~150 foot tall hoodoo referred to as Thor’s Hammer. Having trouble seeing the hammer? Imagine a mallet, and then ignore the bottom 120 feet of the hoodoo, that might help.

The famous hoodoo Thor’s Hammer dominated the view as I ascended the final leg of the trail. Did it look like a hammer? Ummm… well… not to me… not at first. My first impression was of a petrified giant with shoes in the snow, a big pink rounded belly, lighter colored shoulders, thin neck, and a head perched on top (complete with eyes and a funny hairdo/hat)… My second impression? The profile of a turkey, upended and waiting to be basted?  It wasn’t until I remembered the Queen Victoria hoodoo and the ‘cake topper’ theory of hoodoo naming that I was able to imagine the hammer… The rock balanced at the very top looks like the head of a mallet… Thor’s Hammer… sure… at least this time I knew I was looking at the right landmark ;)


The 150 foot hoodoo topped with Thor’s Hammer towering above me as I ascended the Navajo Trail at Bryce.

Even though the trail was much more crowded above Thor’s Hammer, it wasn’t too bad. Most folks weren’t straying far from the overlooks (and their nice warm cars) because the temperatures were so low.


Looking down at the crowds (one person) on the snowy, but well-trafficked Navajo Loop Trail

Despite my critical take on the ‘cake topper’ naming conventions, the scenery at Bryce (the spectacular spires, walls, and amphitheaters) was absolutely spectacular! Gorgeous. Awe-inspiring, and downright amazing. Yeah, I think I’m in love :)


One final shot of Bryce Amphitheater as I hiked from Sunset Point back to Sunrise Point

When I got back to my car, I was planning on heading to Capitol Reef National Park, with a potential stop at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, but Bryce wasn’t done with me yet. As I was driving away, I saw the trailhead for Mossy Cave, and decided to check it out.

Mossy Cave Trail


The Mossy Cave Trail crossing Tropic Ditch, an irrigation ditch created by 40 men in the 1890s

The first thing I noticed as I hiked the Mossy Cave Trail was the running water. Despite the early morning temperatures hovering in the single digits, by lunchtime the temperatures had risen by 30ºF, and were above freezing. Dramatic temperature changes like this are common at Bryce, which undergoes more than 200 freeze-thaw cycles each year. These freeze-thaw cycles drive the erosional forces (primarily frost wedging also known as ice wedging) that make Bryce’s fantastical landscape so unique. Since water expands by 9% when it freezes, 200 freeze-thaw cycles a year can have a big impact on the landscape.


Ice formations, tucked within the shade of the Mossy Cave at Bryce.

Back to that running water… there’s a story there. The creatively named ‘Water Canyon’ was a bone-dry wash until an enterprising group of 40 Later Day Saints (Mormons) set to work with picks and shovels in 1890. Their nearby settlement, later named Tropic, needed water, and by the work of their own hands, they finished the 10-15 mile long irrigation ditch in 1892 that would provide it.  According to the history of the town of Tropic:

“It was on May 23, 1892 that the ten-mile canal brought the waters flowing from the East Fork of the Sevier River over the cliffs of Bryce Canyon into the Tropic Valley, a drop of 1,500 feet; the only stream so far known to have been diverted from the Great Inland Basin, and which would eventually find its way into the Gulf of California through the big Colorado River.” 


Excavating new spillway of Tropic Dam. Lange, D., photographer. , Garfield County Garfield County. United States Utah, 1936. May. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017762899/.


As I read the quote, I fixated on the bit about the Great Inland Basin. Hiking through the Great Basin during my CDT thru-hike (2018), I had learned the one fundamental rule of the basin, “water that falls in the Basin, stays in the Basin,” flowing neither to the Atlantic nor the Pacific… yet here I was, standing next to Great Basin water that was breaking that fundamental rule, and flowing to the Pacific. The other thing I had learned about Great Basin water? At best, it was saltier and more alkali than I like my drinking water to be, at worst it was downright toxic… Earlier this year, I watched a documentary about Avocado’s and one of the California Growers complained about the salinity of the water he was getting from the Colorado River… Was this humble irrigation/drainage ditch partly to blame? I looked into it (Squirrel, What?! Did I find a rabbit hole?), and it IS a contributor to the problem. Seepage from Tropic Ditch “carries 1829 tons of salt per year to the Paria River,” which in turn, carries it to the Colorado River.


Snow-covered trail following the snow-covered waters of the Tropic Ditch on the Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce

Regardless of how the water came to be flowing through the area, it was a beautiful place for a quick hike. Initially I’d hoped to head over to Tropic Waterfall before checking out Mossy Cave, but there were three little signs, spaced at undeniable intervals, declaring the trail to the waterfall closed. Despite my curiosity, and the enticing glimpses of waterfall beyond me, I respected the posted signs and opted to move on, heading straight to ‘Mossy Cave’.


The trail up to Mossy Cave was very icy (microspikes highly recommended), but easy to follow. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t super excited about a moss-covered overhang, but I was pleasantly surprised. The spring-fed ice formations at the grotto were interesting, especially the stalagmites rising up from the floor of the grotto, almost as if mirroring the rows of hoodoos in Bryce’s amphitheater just a couple of miles away.

All in all, I had a wonderful time at Bryce. Bryce was an awesome first stop on my Utah vacation. My only concern was that it set a high bar for vacation expectations, and would be hard match, never mind top…

Previous posts about Bryce:

Next Stop…

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park