What I Would Do For This Dog

Walk Lincoln Woods, most hated trail in the Whites, so that he can get as many interesting low-key sniffy adventures in before his surgery.

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See also: anything.

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But I did explain to him that we’re not setting foot on this particular trail again unless we’re en route to Bondcliff.

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Hopefully that will make him decide to heal well and not tear the other leg!

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Straightback and Anna

Winter is beginning to settle in at the higher elevations, but fall is hanging on below 2,000′. Lilo and I snuck out on Sunday in search of a 4-6 mile loop. We had three peaks left to finish off the Belknap Range and my first thought was to tackle two of those, but the weather was so fine that I couldn’t bear the thought of not poking our heads above treeline, however briefly. So we opted for a loop up South Straightback via the mellower side of Precipice Path before backtracking along the Belknap Ridge Trail to a new peak, Anna, before returning to the car via the Anna-Goat trail and Old Stage Road.img_1992

As usual, finding the trailhead was the hardest part. First I missed a turn and ended up near Alton Bay — which was so pretty that it was hard to begrudge the wasted time! Then it turned out that there wasn’t so much a “parking area” as a “patch of grass next to a realtor’s sign and already occupied by a Prius that I sure hoped belonged to a hiker and not a disgruntled landowner.” I drove around a bit trying to scope out a trail sign before shrugging, parking, and starting off down what I hoped was Old Stage Road and feared was one of the many snowmobile trails in the area.

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Happily, what would have been my turnback point turned out to be marked with the trail signs that we needed! My policy is that I’ll do two turns worth of exploring. If we get to three and I’m still not confident in our position, then we turn back. But this third junction confirmed we had indeed been on Old Stage and put us onto purple-blazed Precipice Path. We opted for the side without the cliffs and waterfall…this time!

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We enjoyed the varied but never technical footage and the still-vibrant foliage decorating the Belknaps even as snow fell farther north. I felt my lack of fitness keenly, but Lilo is always willing to wait and judge me from ahead.

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We gained the ridge in a cluster of birch and evergreen, and the Christmas-red undergrowth from the Moats hike a few week past was taller and shading to orange here and now. The day was warm in the sun, approaching icy in the gusting wind, and I felt utterly peaceful as we made our way towards Straightback; we were just exactly where we were meant to be.

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The wind was blowing hard atop South Straightback, but the views were expansive and fine (and for some reason didn’t want to upload to WordPress!). Lilo humored me by posing near the summit sign with the big sky in the background.

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I toyed with the idea of heading over to Major to look out over the lakes and we even ventured a little ways down that trail. But the certainty of crowds on that peak and the lure of a new one drove us back. Lilo briefly sulked by the summit sign — she really doesn’t enjoy out-and-backs and apparently thought I was cheating her out of a loop by not continuing on to Major!img_2026

But we discussed it and she agreed to a small overlapping portion of the BRT so that we could go tag Anna!img_2031

The narrative now outpaces the pictures; we were in company for part of the descent off Anna and the forest was sun-dappled in that way that does my heart much good but my camera, less so. Lilo earned kudos for her good behavior from all three groups we saw during the remainder of the hike (and one person wanted to explain why my pit bull is an exceptional pit bull — sigh). She’s been much brighter lately and led most of the way back to the car. Not sure how much is the cooler weather and how much her thyroid meds, but I’m happy either way!img_2033

We have two Belknap peaks left. Mack is adjacent to Anna; Whiteface is over on the other end of the range near Piper, which we loved. We have plenty of options for nice half-day loops to get each done and explore a bit more of the area. I don’t see too many big-mile days in my near future, what with Titus’s upcoming surgery and rehab, so I’m turning my focus to smaller hikes with plenty of bang for buck. Luckily, there are plenty of those to keep my brain happy and to give Lilo some one-on-one time.img_2039

And it’s pretty wonderful to have my best girl back on trail again.

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Plot Twist

This is the face of a very stoned cattlefrog who will be having knee surgery on November 1st.

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This surgeon agreed that the original August x-rays look very clean, which was a relief; I was just gutted thinking he’d had a CCL tear all this time after all. But tonight’s exam and imaging following on his recent backslide were suggestive of an early partial tear.

So here we go. I feel great about the surgeon and hospital and am glad to have a plan. Otherwise, I’m pretty disappointed and guilty and sad. This poor little dog just cannot catch a break.

In Good Hands

All pics in this post are courtesy of Paws on Peaks.

I used to be much less particular about who watched my animals while I was away. Oh, I wasn’t cavalier! I enlisted friends or boarded at places that I felt comfortable with. But I spent years in the horse world dealing with folks who were unreasonably picky and precious, micromanaging about every last detail of Lightning’s life when really Lightning would have much rather gotten to hang out in the field with all his friends, even if he was wearing a midweight blanket instead of a heavy-. I had become — just as unreasonably, though I didn’t realize it at the time — terrified of coming across as That Guy. So I spent rather a long time in the realm of accepting good-enough care.

The first wake-up call came when I, through happy accident, ended up leaving my weird and darling old Caseydog in the care of just the right person and saw the difference when I picked him up. So happy to see me, but also so happy where he was!

The next and bigger wake-up call came when I moved my then-horse, for many reasons, into a new barn and discovered how much better I felt when I could just take for granted that he was okay when I wasn’t there to keep tabs on him. A weight I hadn’t fully appreciated was just gone from my shoulders.

So I’ve gotten increasingly choosy, these last few years, about whether I leave the dog(s) behind when I travel and if so, in whose care. In practice, that’s meant that I don’t travel very far very often right now. I’m living in a new area where I don’t yet have a strong local support system established and I’m resource-limited. This past weekend’s whirlwind trip to Pennsylvania was a long time coming and was made possible by Paws on Peaks generously agreeing to take the critters for the weekend.

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Getting comfortable on the first evening of their stay.

Lilo isn’t an especially complicated dog to care for. She’s more reactive off-trail than on-, so I wouldn’t want just anybody taking her for long walks in heavily-trafficked areas. But her house manners are pretty impeccable, as long as it’s a house where the couches belong to the dogs.

Titus is more challenging. He’s a sweet, happy charmer of a dog. He’s also a demanding little fellow who cheerfully brought me every shoe off Krista’s rack while we were chatting at drop-off time and whose compromised leg needs protecting. Give us a year or so and it’ll be a different story. Right now, though, he’d overwhelm an awful lot of lovely folks. (He overwhelms me!)

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So he needs to stay with somebody who thinks it’s hilarious when he insists they come watch him play with a stuffed fish taco.

Even more than the resident humans, I was super-curious to see what Tybee and Tango would think of their houseguests. Lilo gets along with both dogs like gangbusters. Ty and Titus were smitten with each other from their first moment of meeting when we picked him up at the shelter, but Tango isn’t the cattlefrog’s biggest fan. We were all confident that they could coexist under the same roof successfully for a few days, but I wondered whether Titus would work his dog-charming magic.

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Not his most magical moment, but Ty still liked him even after this.

The answer turned out to be only sort of. They got along better and better as the weekend went, but Titus opted to find Tango funny instead of, y’know, barking less. Work in progress! The girls apparently took turns playing with Titus, though, and Tango got lots of pets, so everyone was happy in the end.

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The pointy dog convention also enjoyed some nice group walks.
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And the hooligans went out in smaller groupings, too, to give the others breaks.

It was reassuring to hear that my beasties handled themselves well and also that they were quirky for Krista in the same ways that they’re quirky for me at home. I not-so-secretly hoped that I would come back and hear that she had found a magic trick for getting Titus to settle, but there’s a lot to be said for reassurance that you’re not somehow breaking your dogs in a way that a better handler would just instantly fix. And the success she had in managing them gave me confidence to be a little bolder in my asks. As I type this, we’re all hanging out together with some good chews available, but not a constant stream of exciting new distractions. And yes, Titus is having moments of needing an adult — but on the whole, it’s going well!

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Being as weird for Krista as he is for me!

I was really touched to hear that Lilo wanted to hang out with Titus during their stay. He adores her and she decided a while back that he’s her annoying dog, but it’s not always clear to me whether she really likes him yet. But apparently she repeatedly opted to chill near him during quiet times even though he preferred couch was in a different room.

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Every good holiday includes some wallowing.

I missed the dogs while I was away and I was delighted to see them on my return, but I never once worried about them — and when we were loading up to go home, Titus was very interested in getting into his crate when he saw it go into the car, but also very interested in running back up the stairs to Krista and company’s house. I’m glad they had such a good time at camp!

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On the Road

I wish that the dogs and I could be hiking big hikes right now, but we can’t. I’m trying to look at the situation as an interesting challenge. Anybody can find big views of the glorious New England autumn by skipping up above treeline. How can we instead make the most of limited miles and a requirement for good footing?

The Presidential Rail Trail is our latest attempt. We parked near Mount Washington Regional Airport and walked a nondescript but pleasant (and rehabbing-dog-friendly!) mile and a half to a viewing platform on Cherry Pond.

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The Presidential Range is beginning to frost up for the winter…
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…and the Pliny Range across the pond is dressed in its October best.

We’d had a surprisingly efficient morning. Now the afternoon stretched ahead of us with many hours before we had to report back in to life. So I considered our options to get where we needed to go and selected the route that led us through Evans Notch.

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The not-so-Wild River.

Seasonally-gated 113 is a lovely, twisty road that parallels the Wild River for a while before turning away into the Notch. The foliage peak had continued to make its way east over the week and stretches of 113 just glowed. And then we reached a wide-open vista (albeit at least in part due to tree-cutting, which is not my favorite way to achieve a view) of Evans Notch.

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The pictures don’t do the foliage justice; the colors were rich and layered.

There’s also a memorial plaque here, allegedly the only one of its kind in the Whites — although Bette Davis might have a thing or two to say about that! Google tells me that it’s a tribute to one of the foremen who build the road through the Notch and who had asked that his ashes be scattered at the height of land. I’m a little ambivalent about this sort of thing in general: I totally understand wanting to be connected to a place that you or your loved one enjoyed in life but I also feel it’s important to preserve the wild-ness of these places as much as we can. Here, though, close to the road that Donahue himself built and apparently still maintained by his family, it felt fitting.

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Thank you for the road, Errold O. Donahue.

The dogs and I lingered here for a while, sitting on rocks and enjoying the sun. They ate dinner; I read a chapter of an old favorite book. It wasn’t proper hiking, but for now, it will do.

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Just Keep Swimming

It’s been a rough week in dog health. Or rather, Tuesday was a rough day in dog health, starting with Facebook reminding me first thing in the morning that it was the three-year anniversary of saying goodbye to my dear old Caseydog.

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Travelin’ frog on the way to his appointment with the rehab vet.

Then I got a call from our local vet about mid-day. Lilo has developed some odd minor but persistent skin lesions over the last few weeks. She’s been entirely unbothered by them, but something was clearly not right. We did a round of testing for the usual primary skin problems. When those results proved uninteresting, we ran bloodwork.

The vet was leaning towards serum allergy testing; I wanted a thyroid test. Many cheers to our insurance company for not putting me in the position of having to choose. It turned out we were both right. She came back hypothyroid with quite a few environmental allergies. One thing at a time so we can evaluate effectiveness; she started on thyroid meds on Wednesday.

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Good thing she’s not allergic to down comforters.

And then I took Titus to his rehab appointment. He was quite sore to physical exam and did not gait well on the water treadmill even at low speeds. He’s back on the muscle relaxants and booked for another appointment next week, which we would theoretically have skipped if he’d continued to progress as he has been. So much for a slow and careful return to play. I feel doubly awful given how happy he was to be out there on Saturday.

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He has decided the rehab team is pretty great, though, and plunks right down for his post-treadmill cold laser treatment.

This too shall pass. Titus was progressing really well before this setback. He’ll progress really well again, even if I had really hoped to be farther along at this point, ten weeks post-injury.

And while Lilo has not been obviously in any kind of distress, it sounds like a thyroid issue might very well explain that exercise intolerance and increased generalized weirdness that we spent this summer chasing around — so I am hopeful that getting her meds dialed in (and allergy shots if those seem like an appropriate step once we’re happy with her thyroid levels) will help her out.

And I am grateful to have loved Casey well enough to still miss him every day.

I would really like to get some happy dog news in the near future, though!

The Route Less Traveled (to Lonesome Lake)

At least, I had assumed that the approach from Basin-Cascade and Cascade Brook trail was less-traveled than the shorter (but much rockier and within earshot of the highway for too long) approach via Lonesome Lake trail. Based on the number of fellow travelers we met on our return trek, I’m no longer sure! But that’s foliage season in the Whites.

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Evidence in support.

I struggled to settle on a route for Saturday. I wanted to get above treeline and was sorely tempted to hike to Glen Boulder, but worried that route would be rougher and steeper than was appropriate for this stage of Titus’s rehab. And I wasn’t feeling motivated enough to hike it with Lilo in the morning and then switch dogs and head back out again. The Hedgehog loop would have been perfect, but I already had plan to peer int the Sandwich Wilderness on Sunday and wanted something different. Rumor was that Franconia Notch had the best foliage. Eventually I settled on driving to the Basin lot, fully expecting to reroute due to crowds.

Instead mine was only the third car in the lot and the drive into the notch had been as-advertised peak. We were on our way!

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Pit bull and her pet dog.

We haven’t seen any frost yet at lower elevations, but I’m a wimp; last weekend and this, I’m back to starting in my beloved perfect jacket and then shucking it half a mile down the trail. The dogs and I spent the first mile and a half leapfrogging with two men on their way to the Kinsmans. They’d stop to take pictures and we’d go by, then Titus would have to sniff something within an inch of its life and they’d pass us back. One of them noted that Lilo looked like a, “Very serious hiker!” Good eye, my friend. Good eye.

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Woods giving way to sky on approach to the lake.

I wasn’t sure how far we’d get on this hike. The trail is never technical or significantly steep, but it was more mileage and rougher footing than Titus has seen since the end of July. I had an eagle-eye on his right hind every time we stopped and on his gait while moving. He certainly wasn’t, as the rehab vet says, self-limiting; at least twice he leaped onto a boulder before I could intercept and I thought that would be the end of our hike right there. The tapdance between letting him do more to get stronger and fitter (and saner!) and not letting him do too much is back in our lives again. I’m not-so-secretly hoping for an early winter. I’ll worry less about having him back on trail once the rocks disappear beneath snow!

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Hulking Cannon seen across Lonesome Lake.
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And Franconia Ridge, its neighbor across the street.

Lonesome Lake Hut was still open, but the dogs and I opted to stay down by the shore. We settled quietly down at a respectful distance from the only other person around at the time. Eventually a few other hikers passed and the hut croo dragged first a small table and then a platter of amazing baked goods down. We chatted a few minutes with the croo and our fellow lake-watcher as the dogs and I packed up to go. Then I stealth-bought us each a baked good.

“You didn’t have to do that!” he said.

My reply was, “I know, but I wanted to. So I did. So there.”

…possibly I should be less belligerent in pursuit of good deeds?

But it’s always nice to have a stranger take an interest in the pups and I had exact change and he did, so I figured I could return the kindness and save the croo running back up to the hut to make change.

I had a piece of chocolate mint cake; it was worth every penny.

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Lonesome Lake, with our new friend stage left.

Titus did really, really well during this rest stop. So did Lilo, but she always does. No barking or fussing: he just ate his kibble and looked around. He loves watching the world go by more than any dog I’ve ever known.

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“(S)he’s not with me.”

I tried to pose them in front of the lake for a nice picture before we moved on. Titus’s stay at a distance still needs…a lot of work. We haven’t done much formal training since his injury, initially because I didn’t want to ask him for positions without knowing for sure what would hurt and more recently because he’s put on a number of pounds between the exercise restriction and needing to keep stuffed food toys in front of him to preserve everyone’s sanity. He was a trim 48 pounds at the time of his injury and I really liked him there. Now he’s back where he was when I brought him home: not visibly overweight (thanks, fuzz!) but there’s some extra Titus there when you put hands on him. I figure it will resolve itself as he’s able to get out and exercise more, so we’ll ramp back up the training as the weight comes off.

Anyway. The following pictures were taken within a few seconds. The sequence makes me laugh pretty hard.

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The return hike went much more smoothly than last week’s; we just picked up and went. Titus did bark a little while tied at one point when I stepped off-trail to pee…

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The face Lilo makes when Titus (off camera to her right) starts yelling.

…and had one bout of absolute hysterics with a mile to go. I tethered him and gave him a bandana to shred; he found his brain again after that and hiked nicely the rest of the way out. I’m not sure what brought the meltdown on, but I liked his recovery a whole lot.

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Lilo being right. This was just after the first major water crossing — make that rock crossing this year — on the return. The AT, which we took from this point to the lake, branches off to the right; Basin-Cascade is the blue-blazed trail ahead. I had to pull out my map to make sure that this was indeed the where we jumped back onto Basin-Cascade. Lilo stood there waiting the whole time.

I know that I keep saying this, but the water levels are shockingly low right now. I’m a relative newbie hiker to the Whites and at this point, even I can tell the difference. Water crossings scare me a little — they can so easily go wrong! — but I am looking forward to seeing what these rivers and falls look like when — or if — they regain their usual glory.

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Tryhard Falls.

The morning mist had long since burned off as we reapproached the Basin. Many, many folks were out on the lower portions of the trail enjoying the leaves and fine weather.

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It was such a fine day and I had nowhere in particular to be after our hike, so the dogs and I ended up looping down into Lincoln, which was utterly jam-packed; it took me a good hour to go not even a mile through town. We continued east on the Kancamagus Highway, cut north on seasonally-gated Bear Notch Road, and then returned home via Crawford and Franconia Notches. The going was a bit slower than usual — only in foliage season can you get stuck behind a car with Massachusetts plates going 35 in a 50! — but not as horrific as I’d feared and the drive was every bit as pleasant as I’d hoped. The leaves even just a bit east in Bartlett weren’t at peak quite yet, which was encouraging for my tentative plan of hitting Pinkham Notch with the dogs later in the week.

The bad(?) news is that Titus was pretty sore. He looked great through the whole hike, including the end, but when I hopped him out of the car on Bear Notch Road he was definitely protecting his bad leg, although he walked out of it with reasonable speed. He did look better later than evening and then pretty close to his current baseline today, so I’m hopeful that we just overdid it a bit rather than a reinjury. I’m not sure what I could have done differently other than just not hiking him at all, which I don’t regret: we have the vet’s okay to carefully return to play (on leash) and it seemed like a reasonable increase in distance from his recent very successful outings. We’ll see what the vet thinks at his appointment this week. Rehabbing is hard, you guys. I’ve been very lucky that despite years of having animals, including a sport horse, I’ve never had an injury that required it before. Here’s hoping we just need to dwell a bit at this distance/difficulty rather than having an actual setback on our hands.

Moats Traverse

I have so many horse-related Moats puns, but can’t think of a dog-related one to save my life. So maybe it’s just as well that the drizzly weather kept Lilo home last weekend when I headed out to join three of my most favorite two-legged hiking buddies for a traverse of South, Middle, and North Moat.

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The forecast was wet for most of the Whites, but had looked promising for the Conway area. We started off with high hopes for big views. The foliage was a week or so from peak but individual trees were just starting to pop. We admired glimpses through the morning mist.

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The mist never did burn off as we’d hoped and we spent a few minutes of the first ascent being actively rained on. Oh, well! South Moat was my favorite summit of the day, with neat textured lichen all dressed up in red.

The wooded saddles between the summits were dark and peaceful, and the reemergence of dirt trail was increasingly welcome. Moat Mountain Trail is probably easy going on a dry day. In the unexpected damp and after a rainfall, though, all that smooth just-steep-enough slab became treacherously slick.

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I was endlessly fascinated by the straight lines and stacked look of much of the rock in this range. It looked almost constructed, including this massive wall.

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I wanted to share a few more pics, but trying to insert them in the right places while composing on my phone is infuriating — so it’s not going to happen!  Just picture more wet rock, more flares of red and orange leaves among still-green forest, and more Halloween mist.

The sun did think about putting in an appearance when we arrived on the windless, weirdly warm summit of North Moat, then decided against it and left us in the clouds.

img_1636We had planned to backtrack a mile after tagging North and descend via the allegedly gorgeous Red Ridge trail. As we studied our maps, though, we opted to just continue on Moat Mountsin and save Red Ridge for a clearer day, possibly with Cathedral Ledge thrown in for fun. It was in the not-quite-ten-mile ballpark either way. The folks who care about lists had their summits; the redliners needboth approaches one way or another. And me, I just like to hike! I look forward to returning.

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The famous Diana’s Baths lie half a mile up from the parking lot, but we were almost as impressed with the pools and cascades we passed higher up. Everything is low, low, low right now, but we spotted some promising swimming holes. Titus will love this section when he’s ready!

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The Baths were likewise dismayingly low, but all that water-carved rock still deserved investigation. There were between twenty and thirty people in the area — quite a shock after seeing nearly no one but each other all day!

I’be definitely lost some fitness over these weeks of hiking less. It took me half the route to really feel like I had my legs under me, especially uphill. That should correct itself now that the dogs are getting back on trail, though. I’m hoping to get out both days this weekend, although I hear that a hurricane may have other ideas…