Friday August 17, 2012

Now that the heat and humidity of summer may (finally) be showing signs of letting go, it's time to get back into hiking mode. I'm sure you agree that hiking through a muggy summer forest is OK, but a cool, crisp late-summer, early-fall day with a refreshing breeze is just plain better.

Hikes, whether they are short or long, part day, full day or multi-day, basically fall into one of three categories:

First is the classic point-to-point. Take Georgia to Maine
on the Appalachian Trail as an example. Or the Long Trail the length of Vermont. Or the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, if you want something a little less time consuming.

You travel from one point to another along a trail (or several trails), but that means either having two cars (a luxury in these days of rising gas prices) with one at each end, getting dropped off or picked up at one end, or some other means of shuttling between end point and starting point.

A point-to-point hike is simply more complicated, requires more logistical planning and sometimes, more resources than you have readily available.

In the White Mountains, the AMC has set up its "Hiker Shuttle" (www.outdoors.org/
lodging/lodging-shuttle.cfm) just
to solve this problem.

The simplest hikes to plan and execute are the out and back along the same trail.


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Easy, and you get to see the scenery in both directions. Plus you know what you are getting into on the return hike when you are, presumably, more tired.

But, sometimes, the best hikes of all are the loop hikes, which bring you back to your original starting point without having to retrace your steps. Again, these can be short or long, easy or hard. They often require a little more map work and route finding than a simple out-and-back, but they are generally much easier to plan than a point-to-point hike.

There are, literally, many hundreds of possible loop hikes in New England and New York. Almost every popular hiking mountain has two or more trails to the top starting from the same point. That, of course, means you can do a loop hike.

The first loop hike I ever did was on Mount Monadnock in southwestern New Hampshire.

I went up the White Dot Trail and down the White Cross (or vice versa) from the trailhead at Monadnock State Park. I was 10 or 11 at the time and don't remember the exact details, but the concept stuck -- as has the memory of how thirsty I got because I didn't carry enough water. Lesson learned.

The most recent loop hike I did was on Mount Kearsarge, also in New Hampshire. I parked at Winslow State Park, went up the shorter, steeper Wilmot Trail, then down the longer, more scenic Barlow Trail.

That's another lesson I learned early on: It's easier to go up a steeper trail and down a longer, more gentle one than vice-versa. Steep downhills make for tough hiking, especially if the trail is wet.

Whether you take an hour to hike your loop or a few days, really doesn't matter. A loop is a loop. As long as you get out and do a hike safely and have fun doing it, it's a good hike. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email: timjones@easternslopes.com