Monday, October 8, 2018


Spoiler alert: In this post I disclose my secret switchel recipe!

Our local weekly newspaper News & Citizen has an article by Caleigh Cross about switchel: Switch-el up your fall libations. (The article was on page 23 of the October 4, 2018 print edition with the headline "Try some booze-less brews this fall".) Yay for switchel!

The article is also about apple cider, which is better known than switchel, but I'm just going to write about switchel. If you aren't familiar with why I am excited about switchel – to the point of calling myself "The Switchel Blogger" – see my About page on my other blog, The Switchel Philosopher.

When I was working at Yankee Farm Credit, I was known for a few things outside the job. One was switchel. When I retired in December 2016, CoBank gave me a supply of Susan Alexander's Vermont Switchel made in Hardwick, which is discussed in the News & Citizen article. A customer from southern Vermont gave me a supply of Up Mountain Switchel, originally made in southern Vermont and now made in New York.

Another thing I was known for at work, outside of the job, was my interest in the physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988). My executive assistant gave me a Feynman glass as a retirement gift. The photo above is my homemade switchel in that Feynman glass. The fall vegetables in the photo are from Nancy's garden and the Gingue Farm in Waterford (another Yankee Farm Credit connection, as Paul Gingue was chairperson of the board of directors for several years when I was CEO).

Richard Feynman did not drink alcohol, and perhaps he would have appreciated Caleigh Cross's article which begins:

Hops and suds might wash over our region like liquid gold, but for people who prefer non-boozy brews, there are plenty of options. Try non-alcoholic cider made fresh from New England apples, or wash down a long day’s hiking, biking or running with a sip of Vermont-born switchel.

WCAX television has a "Made in Vermont" series. In July 2013 they featured Vermont Switchel and Susan Alexander. By coincidence my family and I were at the facility in Hardwick, picking up a case of switchel that was a birthday present from my daughter, on the day that WCAX interviewed Susan. I was included in the segment for about 10 seconds saying that Susan's switchel was better than my mother's! Susan Alexander makes good switchel.

One of the fun things about making switchel yourself is trying diverse ingredients, especially different vinegars. My mother made her own vinegar from maple sap. I once found some pomegranate vinegar that made very tasty switchel.

Here's my current recipe to make a half gallon of switchel: a short 1/2 cup of maple syrup from my brother's farm, grade amber rich; a long 1/2 cup of unpasteurized and unfiltered Vermont Village apple cider vinegar; 1/2 tsp ground ginger; 1 tsp lime juice; add water to make a half gallon. Refrigerate.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Mount Katahdin

Mount Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. We climbed it on Monday, September 24. What beautiful weather! It was clear with little or no wind and the temperature was in the 50s. There aren't many days like that on Mount Katahdin, which sees weather nearly as severe as Mount Washington.

The photo above shows the sign on the summit. A few feet from that sign is the cairn in the photo below:

The highest point on Mount Katahdin is Baxter Peak (5267') which is where the sign and cairn are. In the photo above, the peak behind and to the right of the cairn is South Peak (5240'), 0.3 miles away. To the left of the cairn is Pamola Peak (4902'), 0.8 miles beyond South Peak. The narrow, serrated ridge to Pamola Peak is the famous Knife Edge.

We continued our hike from Baxter Peak to South Peak. The photo below was taken shortly after leaving Baxter Peak and shows South Peak at the top right (above the horizon) and Pamola Peak to the left (below the horizon). Note the sheer drop-off a few feet in front of Nancy:

Below is Nancy on South Peak with the Knife Edge and Pamola Peak in the background:

Mount Katahdin is in Baxter State Park. We drove to the park on Sunday, September 23, and parked at Roaring Brook Campground (the end of the road). From there we hiked with overnight packs 3.3 miles to Chimney Pond Campground, accessible only by trail, where we stayed two nights in a lean-to. We climbed Mount Katahdin with day packs on Monday, September 24, starting from and returning to Chimney Pond.

The photo below, taken on South Peak, shows Chimney Pond at the foot of the ridge leading up to Pamola Peak. The elevation of the pond is 2910', some 2330' below us.

We last climbed Mount Katahdin in August 2000. On that trip, Brian and I hiked across the Knife Edge to Pamola Peak and down the Dudley Trail to Chimney Pond. But the Dudley Trail was closed because of a rock slide in the winter of 2016. Nancy and I returned from South Peak to Chimney Pond via the Saddle Trail, the same way we had come up.

Below are two photos taken from Chimney Pond on consecutive mornings, looking up at (from left to right) Pamola Peak, the Knife Edge, South Peak, and Baxter Peak. This photo was taken at 9:33 AM on Monday, September 24, the day we climbed the mountain:

This photo was taken at 9:49 AM the following day, Tuesday, September 25:

It was windy that Tuesday with 40 mph gusts at the ranger station at Chimney Pond. A storm system was moving in. We hiked out before the rain started.

Below is a closer view of the sign in the photo at the top of this post:

It says: "Katahdin, Baxter Peak, Elevation 5267 ft., Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail." There are several mileages listed, the last one is: "Springer Mountain, Georgia via the A.T. 2,189.1 mi." When we reached this sign at about 12:30 PM on September 24, there were perhaps 30 people there including several who were celebrating finishing the Appalachian Trail. What a perfect day weather-wise to celebrate that accomplishment!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Castle Island

Castle Island in Boston Harbor is one of the oldest continuously fortified sites in the United States. English colonists settled in Boston in 1630 and the first fortifications were built on the island in 1634.

There have been eight forts on Castle Island, with various names. The current fort, built between 1833 and 1851, is Fort Independence. The photo above shows a scale model on display inside the fort, now part of the Massachusetts state park system.

We toured Castle Island and Fort Independence today. Below is the view of Boston from the top of the fort:

And below is the view from the other side of the fort, looking out over Boston Harbor. The largest island is Spectacle Island.

One of the interesting displays at Fort Independence is a large collection of flags. Below is the only official United States flag to have more than 13 stripes. It had 15 stars and 15 stripes, recognizing two additions to the original Thirteen Colonies: Vermont (the 14th state) and Kentucky (the 15th state). After this flag, stars continued to be added for new states but the number of stripes reverted to 13.

The flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes was known as the "Star-Spangled Banner." It was the flag in use at the time of the War of 1812. This is the version of the United States flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the British bombardment on the night of September 13-14, 1814, and inspired Francis Scott Key to write what is now our national anthem.

None of the various forts on Castle Island saw hostile action except for a minor incident early in the American Revolution when it was still in British hands. When the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, they "destroyed the island's fortifications which were repaired shortly thereafter by troops under Lt. Colonel Paul Revere."

Over on my other blog, I recently wrote about the Battle of Bennington in 1777. Interestingly, "Paul Revere and his troops brought some 400 British prisoners of war from the Battle of Bennington to imprisonment on Castle Island."

The quotes in the two preceding paragraphs are from the brochure for Castle Island and Fort Independence published by the Castle Island Association which we picked up on our tour today.

Castle Island was an island for most of its history, but it was connected to the mainland in 1928. Much of current day Boston is built on land that was created by filling in surrounding tidal areas. Activity continues today to maintain land and water geography as desired by humans. Below is a dredging operation that was taking place next to Castle Island:

Logan Airport is directly across the water from Castle Island, and it is also partially built on landfill. Below is a photo of Logan Airport from the top of the fort, with a plane coming in for a landing. Planes were taking off and landing all the time.

The obelisk in the photo above, also visible in the scale model at the top of this post, commemorates Donald McKay, who designed and built the fastest clipper ships in the world in the mid 1800s. The names of his ships are engraved on the monument.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Bretton Woods

Nancy and I spent the weekend in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. It was tough duty, but someone had to do it.

Today we hiked Mount Tom (4051') and Mount Field (4331'), starting from the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch. This is a popular hike but it is mostly wooded, with limited views. Below was the view from a cleared lookout on Mount Field:

Today's hike was 7.2 miles, total elevation gain of 2800'.

Bretton Woods is known for the Mount Washington Hotel, one of the last surviving "grand hotels" in the mountains of New Hampshire. This iconic hotel, built in 1900-1902, is now operated by Omni Hotels and Resorts. Below is the Mount Washington Hotel on Friday afternoon at the beginning of our weekend, with the Presidential Range in the background. Mount Washington is the highest peak, to the right:

The Mount Washington Hotel was the site of the famous Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. This conference established the international monetary system that was implemented following World War II. Below is the "Gold Room" where the agreements were signed:

There are many recreational opportunities in the Bretton Woods area. Yesterday we did the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour, which includes nine zip lines, two sky bridges, and three rappels. Below is a 10 second video of Nancy ziplining:

The photo at the top of this post was taken at sunrise today from the back porch of the Mount Washington Hotel. The sun is rising between Mount Washington and Mount Monroe. It was cold this morning; there was a frost.

The photo below was taken five minutes after sunrise, looking back at the porch from where I had taken the sunrise photo at the top of this post:

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Camels Hump

Camels Hump is perhaps Vermont's most iconic mountain. It is on the Vermont quarter. Nancy and I climbed Camels Hump today via the Burrows Trail from the Huntington (west) side.

While this post does not include any photos of Camels Hump (click here for that), it includes several photos from Camels Hump. The photo above is from the summit looking north at Mount Mansfield. The photos below are also from the summit: looking east at the White Mountains of New Hampshire (Mount Washington is dimly visible); looking south at Killington Peak; and looking west at the Champlain Valley, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks of New York.

Mount Mansfield is Vermont's highest mountain (4395'). Killington Peak is second highest (4235'). Camels Hump is tied with Mount Ellen for third (4083').

The photo below is from the Hut Clearing near the summit. The plaque says that Camels Hump was designated a "Registered Natural Landmark" in 1968:

When we climbed Mount Mansfield earlier this month, I noted a similar plaque that identified Mount Mansfield as a "National Natural Landmark" in 1980. It appears to be the same designation, notwithstanding the slight change in terminology. More info about these sites in the National Natural Landmarks program: Camels Hump, Mount Mansfield.

In my blog post about that hike on Mount Mansfield, I mused about how "natural" the summit ridge was. Mount Mansfield is reasonably natural, but Camels Hump is more so. There are no communications towers, no ski area, no visitors center, and no road to the top. Consequently it is a popular hike, with several trailheads that are easily accessible. We saw numerous other people enjoying the trails and the summit today, even though it was a weekday. It didn't hurt that it was a beautiful day, not too hot or humid.

Today's hike stats: 4.8 miles, elevation gain of 2283'.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

LT Smugglers Notch to Johnson

Smugglers Notch is a mountain pass that separates Mount Mansfield to the south from the Sterling Range to the north. The Long Trail crosses Smugglers Notch on its way from Massachusetts to Canada along the spine of Vermont's Green Mountains.

A hike of 7.5 miles south from Barnes Camp in Smugglers Notch will take you on the LT over Mount Mansfield to Butler Lodge and out a side trail to the Stevensville parking area in Underhill. Double that distance north on the LT from Barnes Camp will take you to a parking area where the LT crosses Vermont Route 15 in Johnson.

Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak at 4395', is a frequent hiking destination for our family, but today Nancy and I hiked north from Smugglers Notch. We positioned cars so that our hike wasn't the full 15 miles mentioned above, but "only" 11.1 miles. This section of the LT involves much up-and-down. There are four ascents (Sterling, Madonna, Morse-east slope, and Whiteface) with total elevation gain of 2500'.

When we reached Sterling Pond early in the hike, we encountered a couple who had been watching a bull moose swimming in the pond, but he was gone by the time we arrived and we did not see him. Shortly thereafter we encountered people setting up for a trail race sponsored by Smugglers Notch Resort and Ironwood Adventure Works – the 1st Annual Smuggs Mountain Race, a 25K running event on ski trails with 5000' elevation gain. That's a workout!

The photo below was a sign from the trail race, where the LT crosses the Drifter ski trail on Madonna Mountain, part of Smugglers Notch Resort:

We took Drifter instead of the LT to the summit of Madonna Mountain, because the view from Drifter looking south at Mount Mansfield is spectacular. That is the photo at the top of this post, taken from where Drifter turns a sharp corner high on Madonna Mountain.

From this viewpoint, one can normally see the entire ridgeline of Mount Mansfield, from the Chin to the Nose, but today it was in the clouds. Sterling Pond is visible in the photo above, and directly behind the pond are the thousand foot high cliffs of Smugglers Notch.

We saw the first runners in the trail race on top of Madonna Mountain, where we picked up the LT north again.

We hiked by three shelters on the LT today: Sterling Pond Shelter, Whiteface Shelter (below), and Bear Hollow Shelter.

The high point on our hike was Whiteface Mountain (photo below) but it is a wooded summit and there are limited views there:

Interestingly, the 2017 Long Trail Guide says we were on top of "Sterling Mtn. (also known as Whiteface Mtn.)." That's the first time I've heard it called Sterling Mountain. I've always heard it called Whiteface Mountain, as in the sign above, the highest mountain in the Sterling Range.

When we reached the top of Whiteface Mountain we were only 5.4 miles into our 11.1 mile hike, but the ascents were behind us. It was all downhill from there to our car.

Both Nancy and I have hiked parts of this section of the LT many times together, and the whole 11 miles with other people, but this was the first time the two of us hiked the entire 11 miles together. We reminisced about the many adventures that various members of our family, especially Laura, have had on this section of trail. My own adventures include outings as a Boy Scout in the 1960s and as a Boy Scout leader thirty years later. It's a wonderful, if rugged, section of the Long Trail.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mount Mansfield - Underhill side

Nancy and I had a delightful hike on Mount Mansfield today. Our hike on Mount Mansfield last month was on the Stowe side. Today's hike was on the Underhill side.

We parked at the Underhill State Park and hiked up the CCC Road and Maple Ridge Trail to the Forehead. From there we hiked north on the Long Trail along the ridge of Mount Mansfield past the Nose, and then down the Halfway House Trail back to the CCC Road and the state park. Unlike our hike last month, we did not go over the Chin, the highest point on the mountain (and in Vermont) at 4395'. Our highest elevation today was the Forehead at 3940':

We were in the clouds on the Forehead. The photo at the top of this post is from part way up the Maple Ridge Trail looking south toward Dewey Mountain (3371'). Lost somewhere in the distant clouds are Bolton Mountain and Camels Hump.

Today's hike was 7.9 miles, elevation gain of 2140'.

The rest of this post is about past and present developments on Mount Mansfield along the route of our hike today.

On the ridge we walked past this marker:

It identifies the "Mount Mansfield Natural Area" as a National Natural Landmark. Not far from this marker is the Summit Station and Mount Mansfield Visitor Center at 3849':

At this location near the base of the Nose, the Summit House offered summer accommodations from 1858 to 1958. Also known at times as the Tip Top House, the Mountain House, and the Mt. Mansfield House, this hotel had 50 guest rooms at its largest extent. Guests arrived originally by horse or foot, later by automobile. The Summit House was intentionally burned in 1964 after falling into disuse and disrepair.

The Summit House was a major attraction in its day, one of numerous "grand hotels" in the mountains of New England.

One distinguished guest, the famous American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, described how in the morning following his overnight stay "a man went through the house ringing a large bell, and shouting Sunrise." In response guests rumbled out of their beds to climb the Nose for a pre-breakfast view of the sun's emergence.

When access to the Summit House was by horse or foot, there were routes on both the east side of the mountain (Stowe) and the west side of the mountain (Underhill). Each route had a Halfway House, which were also hotels – about halfway up the mountain. The Halfway Houses apparently perished in the 1930s, but the routes up the mountain remain: the Auto Toll Road on the Stowe side, and the Halfway House Trail on the Underhill side.

The Halfway House Trail starts on the CCC Road 1.2 miles from the parking area at the Underhill State Park. The Civilian Conservation Corps built both the Underhill State Park and the CCC Road in the 1930s and early 1940s. The CCC Road was not a route up the mountain, but a road along the side of the mountain at an elevation of about 2500'. The road was intended to connect the state park to Nebraska Notch at the southern end of Mount Mansfield, but only a portion of the planned road was built. The project was abandoned when the CCC was ended in 1942 because of World War II. Today the CCC Road is part of the hiking trail system on the west side of Mount Mansfield:

Is the summit ridge of Mount Mansfield more "natural" today than it was in the era of the Summit House? When Nancy and I left the Mount Mansfield Visitor Center at the top of the Auto Toll Road at 11 AM today, the caretaker there had already registered 88 visitors for the day, who arrived either by trail or by the road (the majority). And the trail up the Nose that captured Emerson's attention at sunrise is now permanently closed because of radiation from nearby communications towers:

The signs in the three photos above are all near each other at the base of the Nose. The signs in the top two photos warn of radiofrequency fields. The hand lettered white sign on the post below "Long Trail South" says:

This trail does not go up "the Nose," which is closed to pedestrian traffic indefinitely.

I can remember hiking the short side trail over the Nose (4060'), but it was a long time ago. That trail, called the Triangle Trail, was closed in 1997 when the power of the nearby broadcasting facilities was increased.

I have no photos from today's hike of the antennas near the Nose because we were in the clouds. Click here for a description of the broadcasting facilities in this area (as of 2011). They are impressive. There are several photos at that link.

Other sources:

Mansfield: The Story of Vermont's Loftiest Mountain by Robert L. Hagerman (1971)

The quote about Ralph Waldo Emerson came from this book, page 60. This book has photos of the Summit House and the Halfway House on the Underhill side.

National Register of Historic Places: Registration Form for Underhill State Park (2002)

This source has considerable information about the activities of the CCC at Underhill State Park.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Tuckerman Ravine Trail

Mount Washington in New Hampshire is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi and north of North Carolina. The most popular hiking route is the Tuckerman Ravine Trail on the east side of the mountain. The lower part of the trail to Hermit Lake is closed this summer for bridge repairs. There is a detour available, which Nancy and I took today. Below is an excavator that we saw on the trail. It had been driven quite a ways up the mountain!

The Tuckerman Ravine Trail starts at Pinkham Notch (2000'). Hermit Lake (photo below) is at 3800' on the floor of Tuckerman Ravine:

Above the floor of Tuckerman Ravine, the trail climbs the headwall. It is steep, but the trail is well constructed. Today there were beautiful waterfalls cascading down the headwall:

As shown in the photos above, we were in the clouds once we climbed above the floor of the ravine. The photo at the top of this post is at the junction of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the Alpine Garden Trail at the top of the headwall. We continued on for another 0.3 miles past that point before turning around in the rain. The temp was in the mid 50s, the rocks were slippery, and it wasn't fun anymore. We were 0.5 miles from the summit and reached an elevation of 5500'. The summit of Mount Washington is 6288'.

On our way down the rain stopped and the clouds lifted a little. Below is a better view of the waterfalls on the Tuckerman Ravine headwall:

Tuckerman Ravine is famous for spring skiing. Skiers hike in to the floor of the ravine, and then up the sides of the ravine as far as comfort allows. Below is a 15 second video from our hike today that gives a sense of the ravine. The video starts with the waterfalls on the headwall, then sweeps around over the ravine, and ends with a view of Lion Head, the ridge that forms the north wall of the ravine:

As I was admiring Tuckerman Ravine from this location, and not paying attention to what Nancy was doing, she took a photo of me that perhaps belongs on my Switchel Philosopher blog??

Today's hike was 7.5 miles, elevation gain of 3,500'.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Mount Mansfield and Barnes Camp

Nancy and I had a delightful hike over Mount Mansfield today. We parked at Barnes Camp on VT-108 and did a loop hike up the Long Trail to the Chin, along the ridge to the Nose, and down the Haselton Trail back to Barnes Camp.

The photo above is from the Long Trail on the way up. This photo is looking north from just north of the Chin. The nearby hump on the right side of the photo is the Adams Apple (4060'). To the left of the Adams Apple is the Lake of the Clouds, a pretty mountain tarn at about 3900'.

The photo below is from the Haselton Trail on the way down. This photo is also looking north, back at where we had come from. The Chin (Vermont's highest point at 4395') is visible between the trees at the left, as is the top of the gondola at Stowe Mountain Resort (3600'). Smugglers Notch (the geological feature not the ski resort) can be seen between the trees at the right.

Today's hike was 5.8 miles, elevation gain of 2,800'.

A few comments about Barnes Camp (photo below)…

Barnes Camp was built in 1927 as a logging camp and renovated in 2013-14 as a visitor center at the "southern gateway" of Smugglers Notch (i.e., the Stowe side). More info here and here.

In 2017 a boardwalk was completed at Barnes Camp that allows visitors to stroll through wetlands that would otherwise be inaccessible. More info here and here. The one-eighth mile long boardwalk also offers views of Smugglers Notch that were previously unavailable. The photo below was taken from the boardwalk earlier this year (not today), and shows Smugglers Notch and its reflection in a beaver pond:

The Long Trail in Smugglers Notch was re-routed this year to use the boardwalk, and Barnes Camp has become a major access point for the Long Trail. There is ample parking across VT-108 from the camp.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Eagle Island

Robert Peary built an unusual home on Eagle Island in Casco Bay off the coast of Maine in 1904. The house was built to resemble a ship. The two photos below show the house from the front (bow) and the rear (stern):

Inside the house is a unique three-sided fireplace, each side constructed with a different kind of stones found on the island:

Robert Peary (1856-1920) was an explorer who won renown for his Arctic expeditions, especially his 1909 expedition which was widely credited as the first to reach the North Pole. While he was an officer in the U.S. Navy for 30 years (1881-1911), retiring with the rank of rear admiral, his Arctic expeditions were privately financed and undertaken while on leave from the Navy.

Peary fell in love with Eagle Island while exploring the coast of Maine as a student at nearby Bowdoin College, from which he graduated in 1877 with a degree in civil engineering. He was also an accomplished surveyor and taxidermist. The house on Eagle Island contains many examples of his taxidermy work, some of which are visible on the fireplace mantel above.

In addition to the main house on Eagle Island, Peary also built the caretaker's cottage shown in the photo below:

Eagle Island remained in the Peary family until 1967 when they donated it to the State of Maine for a state park. See Eagle Island State Historic Site and Friends of Peary's Eagle Island.

The island is accessible only by boat. While commercial transportation is available, we visited today via the private boat of our friends Pam and David:

The building behind Pam and David is the Welcome Center, built in 2014. It is the first building one encounters after walking off the dock. Here visitors can watch the 10-minute film "Admiral Robert E. Peary – A Man and His Island" and pick up an audio wand for a free self-guided tour of the Peary home, now called the Peary Museum and containing many interesting artifacts and displays. There are also gardens and walking trails on the 17-acre island.

Robert Peary's study and library is the round stone structure behind Nancy and me in the photo at the top of this post. Visible in three of the photos above is the wind vane on top of the Peary house. It is in the shape of the Roosevelt, Peary's arctic ship, named for his friend President Theodore Roosevelt.

The granite bench on which Pam and David are sitting says:
In Memory of David S. Chaney
Park Manager Eagle Island 1986-1998

That was Pam's uncle.