New England October 2010 Trip Report
© October 2010 Adam Helman


The county's highest point lies mere moments beyond my parked rental car. There is essentially no elevation to be gained - much less navigation and technical climbing issues.

If this were the totality of my chosen hobby I'd most assuredly get another one - in a big hurry!

However when bagging highpoints one often sacrifices quality for quantity - and as exemplified in this thirteen day trip to the colorful foliage of a New England autumn.

Not every peak must take all day, or longer, possibly with mortal dangers for the unprepared, inexperienced, or overly cocky. Reinhold Messners and "extreme" alpinists of this planet notwithstanding, the overwhelmingly important goal is enjoyment - release from the everyday drudgery we all suffer in our normal lives, for those all-too-brief periods of communing with Nature under her rules ... and where success is entirely under your control rather than your wife, boss, or government authority.

Peakbagging Rules!!

The plan called for meeting John Hamann of Alamogordo, New Mexico in Boston's Logan Airport. We'd share a rental car, bagging topographically prominent summits in Vermont and New Hampshire for a week. John would then fly home, and I'd go it alone to start and finish the Rhode Island and Connecticut county highpoints. Trivial - yes, but an excellent foil to my last trip, in the northern Rockies, wherein an ample range of (real) climbing issues arose ... plus grizzlies!

Most unfortunately, John's flight itinerary got all messed up, and, unable to secure an alternate flight, I was suddenly forced to carry through our plans without him.

Rhode Island, Connecticut - and more

The highpoints fly-by as an orderly set of points connected by highways and rocky paths. Although I recall each separate venue, it is fact that, years from now the only events recalled with clarity will be those entailing significant physical effort such as Grand Teton, Mount Olympus in Washington, and Aconcagua.

Frankly, the current set of highpoints fail in that regard. However I might recall that all five Rhode Island county highpoints were done in the rain on one October 6 - and that the previous evening I struggled to leave downtown Boston under unwelcome circumstances: it was raining, the traffic was heavy, the one-way streets were most annoying, I was unfamiliar with my rental's handling and dashboard, plus is was dark.

That combination threatened to blow the top off a hidden sense of inadequacy - and so I hum a tune as drivers honked at me while I drive too slowly for them, fumbling with a street map read by headlamp, trying to decide if this lane is the correct one ...

... it is well to park at Wal-Mart, even in the rain, so ending a long day that began around 4 a.m. near a different ocean's shore.

Most unforseeable events sit on the "unwelcome" side of middle ground. I scope-out the trailhead for Middlesex County, Connecticut and then park off the paved public road for yet another night on the rental's back seats. It's just past 5 with still an hour of daylight. Suddenly an enormous, fat lady lumbers over from her home about 50 yards down the street. She has to drag one lower appendage at a time in a shuffling motion - and I cannot decide if it's because she is truly handicapped or because she lacks the power to move her entire frame forward rather than one-half of it at a time. What a pitiful creature!

Anyhow, I roll down the back seat window and hear this mantra about how she's going to call the police if I don't move. I explain this is public ground, but that if it makes her feel better I'll find another place to camp anyway. I then drive back 3/4 mile to a Korean church parking lot, deciding to walk the extra 1 1/2 miles by daybreak.

At sundown the local police sees my vehicle and decides to investigate. This is the third time in several hundred car-camps that my presence is questioned in said fashion. So I know the routine of remaining in the car. I ask if that lady phoned-in, and yes - she was concerned about local thievery. I explain my hobby and the officer is quite satisfied with that description.

Next morning I am in my usual, nearly manic rush to completely fill the daylight hours - yet no more for sanity's sake. So I drive back to the trailhead area (so "saving" one-half hour), yet park in a different spot along the approach road. Shortly after benchmark Meshomasic is mine; and I'm soon driving to the next highpoint goal.

While parked at a gas station after ten miles driving a young lady stops to fill her tank. She explained,

"I've been following you for the last ten miles ... I live in the house across the street from where you parked this morning".

I replied, "Which mailbox number?" (for advising future cohp'ers where to park!)

"Number 75".

I replied, "You know, I was doing the Middlesex County highpoint."

"Yes, I've been there several times".

That's the end-of-story because she had to work and I had to bag my next county highpoint. She is slender, has a GORGEOUS figure more generally (i.e. lacks that "sickly" complexion of an anorexic), wears hiking boots, and drives a Jeep. Maybe 25 or 30.

Somehow I fail to start the pump mechanism - my attention being sufficiently distracted. More generally, this morning's contrast between "Beauty and the Beast" could not be starker.

Other venues are included owing to their convenience. Thus I drive west to the New Jersey state highpoint: all my remaining state highpoints are several hundred miles away in the midwest or Deep South. Hence it is most practical to visit Sussex County's "High Point" now rather than on a future trip.

I also add Westchester County, New York; Dutchess County, New York (on the hike to Connecticut's highpoint); and four Massachusetts counties - Hampden, Bristol, Norfolk and Suffolk County containing Boston itself.

I do not derive much satisfaction in finishing the Connecticut and Rhode Island lists. This is not to write they were not valuable efforts: the bottom line, at least for my sake, is that I enjoyed the overall experience.


Aimee Bouchard and Micah Schneider invited me for one night at their Springfield, Massachusetts home. Knowing that, I let John Hamann express-mail his maps and reports for our joint efforts to their home. I would retrieve it and fill-in missing pieces using their home computer.

First, I get lost finding their home. I waste two hours, unable to correlate verbal instructions with visual observation.

Then, I wait until 7 p.m. for them to come home, examining John H's mail package for the upcoming week.

Then, I give up and park for a third night in-a-row at a long pullout at WGS84 datum (42.18067° N, 72.84440° W) along US Route 20 on its north side about 15 miles west of Springfield.

Another driving misadventure. I am in Chicopee, a Springfield, Massachusetts suburb, when my street suddenly (and without warning because of a bend in the road) becomes an entrance for the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate-90)!

I have no intention of leaving town and being forced to drive several miles before exiting - only to turn about and drive several miles back. So I consciously defy a "no U-turn" sign (which I've never done before) and make a U-turn to avoid this nightmare; hoping that the photo surveillance cameras at the turnpike's toll booths have not photgraphed my license plate.

on Sleeping

It is quite difficult finding places to car-camp in New England without getting "caught". This is particularly bad farther south such as Massachusetts. Indeed, I was kicked-out of the Chicopee, Massachusetts Wal-Mart by their security patrol.

I spend twelve of thirteen nights car-camping:

Note how I camped right along highways on six nights. The traffic and lights would deter a large fraction of highpointers from these venues. I'd arrive around sunset, eat on the back-seats, and try to sleep around 7 p.m. despite these encumbrances. Sunrise is around 7 a.m. - and I'd arise around 6 a.m. and drive in gathering light for one-half hour, the immediate goal being hot coffee / chocolate at some convenient gas station. Indeed, it was that thought of a hot beverage that propelled me into action from an often freezing night, running the motor several minutes to free frost from the front windshield (no ice scraper was provided).

I consider sleeping for eleven hours as good training for Denali where one is often forced to be inactive for days on-end. Furthermore, I had brought no reading material of any manner because I was going to rely on conversation with John H.

The psychology of sheer boredom can be daunting.

One night all the "stars aligned" and I take a motel room: it is raining heavily on Friday, October 15; I have finished my day's highpointing early (by 2 p.m.); and the next day's effort can be done in the late morning rather than at the crack of dawn. I have both a shower AND a bath that afternoon in immediate succession...just reward after getting "soaked" - and arising before sunrise to a near or sub-freezing dawn for the past several days.

Vermont and New Hampshire

These states feature real mountains - and in the right season can be colorful in the extreme:

The deepest crimson red, bright oranges & yellows, plus green of a New England October! Often I look down near my boots and, in a randomly selected square foot, find leaves so varied in form and color that it can be considered "contemporary art".

The first day is a testament to sheer laziness: I drive up or take a ski gondola to each of four 2,000+ foot prominences - all of them county highpoints. This unusual circumstance arises rarely in a peakbagger's travels. I seize these moments to become a couch potato because even driving up a mountain is a different experience to be enjoyed for it's own sake: there are enough mountains, the overwhelmingly vast majority where hiking or climbing is mandatory. So more "added value" results in taking (pardon the pun), in these rare opportunities, the "road less traveled".

In this manner Massachusett's Mount Greylock and Vermont's Equinox, Stratton, and Killington Peak are done. Had John H. been with me he'd have insisted on hiking at least partway for each effort. I claim that his absence allows me to summit more peaks, by trip's end, than otherwise.

One hike stands out as a "significant" effort - Mount Lafayette of Grafton County, New Hampshire. The elevation gain exceeds 3,000 feet, and the round trip consumes over five hours. This trip report provides details, with particular attention on the exact trailhead location.

Lafayette summit
Adam atop Mount Lafayette.
Photo courtesy of Chris LeVan.

After that hike I add Mount Kearsarge that very afternoon as the forecast of a "noreaster" for the next day, Friday October 15, will likely result in a day indoors.

I indeed arise to heavy rain showers. From the abandoned house's driveway I proceed through Warner, New Hampshire and soon stop at the junction of Route 103 and Interstate-89 because it's simply too dangerous for driving anywhere without a darned good excuse.

There's a Dunkin Donuts, a Shell station, and a McDonalds. Where do I get my hot chocolate while waiting-out this tempest? I've always wanted to try their well-advertised coffee, so I opt for the latter venue even though I don't exactly consider it world-class cuisine.

I order the hot mocha cappuccino with whipped cream, and sit down to enjoy it with a granola bar. However once finished it's still raining terribly hard - and I have nothing to do. Although I was planning to have a big lunch in Concord or Manchester (this being a "day off"), I decide that prudence dictates having a meal here instead.

There's steak and onion on a bagel with scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese. I add hot Indian vindaloo sauce, lending instant flavor to an otherwise boring sandwich. Pre-formed hash browns are eaten (with ketchup, of course). There's this extreeeeeeemely delicious "brownie melt" oozing with chocolate sauce - plus iced coffee with cream to create a pleasing temperature contrast.

"Argh!" Ten dollars to eat ... at ... "just" McDonalds?

I eventually head south on US Route 202 in search of yet another library to make good perceived failures in my current dataset. The Peterborough, New Hampshire library provides a full hour of computer time.

Some numerology. Last year I ended with an all-time total of exactly 441 county highpoints - a perfect square (21). I finished last summer with just 12 more counties - 453 (although what a dozen counties they were). To exit the current year with a perfect square (this is highly desirable!) I need exactly 31 counties on this trip, so making for a total of 484 - both a pleasing palindrome and the square of 22.

Everything was on-track until I failed to reach Big Jay, the highpoint of Franklin County, Vermont a few days ago. So I sought an alternate county highpoint that afternoon by visiting the Newport, Vermont library near Canada - so ensuring that my year ends with 484 counties. There I learned that Wachusett Mountain of Worcester County, Massachusetts is (by now) both nearby and a drive-up - perfect for a rainy day such as today.

I am about to log-out when I decide to check the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation website; and learn that the summit road is under repair through 2011. So the Pine Hill Trail will be taken regardless of the weather.

On leaving I learn that Peterborough has the oldest public library in the United States - and I had "chanced" upon it by dumb luck.

Details of Wachusett Mountain are described in this trip report. It is this afternoon that I find myself in a motel room, a welcome relief from the rental's back seats.

My final hike is of Monadnock, highpoint of Cheshire County, New Hampshire. Route conditions are miserable indeed, the recent storm's snow melting into a torrent of streams that inundate the flat, otherwise enjoyable boulder slabs above treeline.

Boston and Going Home

I got a day ahead of schedule by hiking "something" on the predicted rain date. Downtown Boston will have plenty of historic sites, and I go there rather than get yet another county highpoint because I wish to retain "484" for several months.

To "celebrate" a good trip (and as a change from eating cold liverwurst on rye for supper on the back seats) I enjoy a 1 1/2 pound lobster with butter, rolls, corn on cob at lunch - followed by Bailey's with coffee. The lobster sets me back twenty bucks. I think that a bowl of fettuccini alfredo is both tastier and far cheaper. However the New England style clam chowder appetizer is the best I've ever eaten.

It's a mistake to sleep in Boston's long-term parking lot. A bus comes by every several minutes; and, worse, there are cameras and a security vehicle looking for anything strange. I hunker-down under the seats, making myself invisible to onlookers. After sundown I am pleased to eat my self-heating dinner by the lot's lights rather than with a headlamp which would reveal my presence.

I arise at 4:15 a.m., return the rental (having accumulated 1,961 miles); check my single piece of luggage (as each item gets charged nowadays); and enjoy a creamy, iced, pumpkin-flavored beverage at Dunkin Donuts on the ground level with mini-spice cookies before going through "security" and finding absurdly-priced edible offerings alongside the departure gates.

(Note that Dunkin Donuts is big business in New England. They currently offer a maple-cheddar croissant which, although tasty, is primarily sausage and eggs rather than the advertised ingredients. Still, I always try anything "new" - and it helped get me up that's day's peak du jour.)

My flights home go through Houston, Texas. During the short layover I stroll down the terminal building and find perfectly cooked beef brisket atop a dinner plate-sized baked potato; adorned with cheddar cheese ... and then drenched in spicy BBQ sauce to become a fully edible reddish "mountain" that was, apparently, irresistable.

I was not hungry for the day's balance. Thinly-sliced Texas-style brisket has the "perfect" texture.


The journey's goals are achieved - two completed states, four state highpoints, nine peaks exceeding 2,000 feet of prominence, and 31 county highpoints. A timestamped map shows the visiting counties with tiny red and yellow dots.

Next time I come to New England I'd like a "lobster roll" rather than having to crack the reddish body at-tableside with the innards scattering all over my food bib: a tasty yet inconvenient exercise.

My next county highpoint is the granddad of them all.