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Active Outdoors

Active Outdoors: One night vacation at Black Mountain Cabin

Spending a day outdoors is good. Stretching that to two days with an overnight is even better. I’m a big believer in one-night getaways. Once you have a little practice at it, you’ll be surprised how easy and how much fun a mini-vacation can be.

Several years ago, my sweetheart Marilyn and I decided to get together with our friends David and Susan and celebrate New Year’s at the Black Mountain Cabin in the White Mountain National Forest in Jackson. The cabin is 1.4 miles from the road, all uphill.

Knowing that the cabin had a woodstove, we took saws and axes for cutting and splitting firewood and a sled for hauling it. We cut plenty of wood and soon had the stove heated to cherry red. But, unfortunately, the stove is barely big enough to warm an insulated ice-fishing shanty, let alone a large cabin with a high ceiling and holes in the walls. The temperature outside was below zero, with a gale howling that forced us to actually bar the door to keep it closed. We slept warm in our sleeping bags but were pretty cold the rest of the time (water froze inside the cabin overnight). It was a wonderful adventure, but we decided then that we wanted to visit the cabin when the weather was more moderate.

Back in January (you have to plan ahead, especially for weekends), we reserved the cabin for the first Saturday in April, figuring the weather would be a lot warmer. Our biggest concern when we made the reservation was how muddy the trail would be. Turns out it wasn’t muddy at all – there was too much snow. Remember a couple of weeks ago when I exhorted you to hold onto winter as long as possible? Well, this was putting that concept into action.

Winter traffic (this is a popular snowshoe and backcountry ski trail) had compacted the snow, so we didn’t need snowshoes and could climb with boots and mini-crampons for added traction. It took about an hour and a quarter to haul ourselves and our packs up to the cabin. We had everything we needed for full-on winter, and it turned out we pretty much needed everything we had.

The cabin itself is rustic, lovely and has an absolutely stunning view of snow-covered Mount Washington. If you’ve never hiked up to the cabin when “The Rockpile” is covered in snow, you’ve missed something special.

While Marilyn and Susan cleaned up the cabin a bit from the previous renters, and laid out our pads, sleeping bags, food and kitchen gear, David and I took off and found two leaning dead trees – a spruce and a maple – small enough to easily cut and drag back to the cabin but large enough to supply more than a night’s firewood. By the time we got the wood cut and in and the fire started, it was time for lunch, a quick hike to the top of Black, and the all-important afternoon nap before appetizers and dinner.

While it was 25 degrees warmer than the last time we’d stayed at the cabin, the wind was howling again. Even with the fire going full blast, the cabin was cold – too cold for comfortable sitting around. Honestly, we’d have been warmer in a tipi. Still, we watched the sun set, ate a wonderful dinner, cleaned up and hit the comfy winter sleeping bags early.

Whenever someone got up in the night, they threw more wood on the fire, but the temperature inside still barely inched above freezing. In the morning, we got up early and admired the sight of Mount Washington lit by the rising sun with our hands wrapped around steaming cups of coffee or tea. Then we cooked and ate a massive breakfast, packed up and headed back down.

Sure, it’s possible to dayhike up Black Mountain to the cabin. But the solitude and the spectacular sunset and sunrise views were what really made this trip special. We wouldn’t have gotten those without the overnight, and having to work a bit to stay warm in a cold cabin was a very small price to pay.

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Paddlesports show

If you love to paddle, plan on being at the UNH Field House in Durham sometime between April 19-21 for the New England Paddlesports Presented by Kittery Trading Post show. This annual event showcases the sport of recreational paddling with kayaks, canoes and Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUP). You can try on boat- and paddling-wear, heft paddles, see a bunch of accessories, ask questions, get answers.

They also present a number of seminars. This year, the lineup includes on-the-water pool demonstrations on kayak selection, paddle strokes, boat control, rescue/reentry techniques, kayak fishing and fitness fun on an SUP. They also showcase some really cool places to paddle and stuff to paddle with.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a can’t-miss event, the kickoff to a great paddling season. Show hours are Friday from 5-9, Saturday from 9-6 and Sunday from 9-4. Admission is $7, with under 16’s free, but there’s more information and a $2 off coupon at or by calling 888-587-6246.

Housatonic River Walk

If you like to get dirty and possibly wet and have fun doing it, the Great Barrington Housatonic River Walk in Massachusetts will hold its annual Earth Day workday on April 20 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This year’s work season includes planting thousands of native plants propagated from seed collected locally while ridding the riverbank of knotweed, bittersweet, garlic mustard, multiflora rose and other exotic-invasives. Work plans also include trail repair and maintenance and river-bottom cleanups. Fragile riverbanks compromised by recent storm events will be stabilized with bioengineering techniques.

On April 20, volunteers will meet at the W. E. B. Du Bois River Garden Park by the former Searles Middle School parking lot on River Street, near Bridge Street. Morning coffee and lunch will be provided. Tours will be given in the afternoon.

(Tim Jones can be reached at

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