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Sep 15 2011

Route 302 Opening

This just in! As of September 17th, Route 302 through Crawford Notch will be open for all travel. In a heroic effort on the part of work crews and project organizers, the popular and scenic byway is nearing full repair from the damage unleashed by the swollen Sawyer River and other elements of Tropical Storm Irene.

Many popular hiking trails such as those located on Sawyer River Road and Zealand Road will now be open for hiking. Although the US Forest Service’s website has not released an official statement, I have it on good authority from the local office that all trails with the exception of the Dry River Trail will be open.

Route 302 serves as a popular route for travelers in all seasons, particuarly during the fall foliage season. My advice to anyone reading this, particuarly those who have never traveled Route 302, is to head on up and take the drive. Stop at points along the way to take in the early foliage (which, by the way, might be backdropped by snow-capped mountains in the Presidential Range after tonight’s temperatures dip into the 20′s on the summit). Set aside a few hours and drive from notch-to-notch, using 302 as a scenic go-between. Trust me, it will be worth your while!

Mount Washington: A Transition

Mount Washington View From Along Rt. 302

Sep 9 2011

5 Family Friendly NH Fall Hikes

Each of the four New Hampshire seasons bring about unique considerations for outdoor recreation. During the fall, it’s all about where to go! If you’re aiming for a hike you need to consider your companions, their level of skill and ambition, and how to keep them safe.

Here are five hikes to consider if you’re taking along children (of walking age, or still in the baby-pack), or anyone who might be of less experience; these are my family-friendly recommendations for enjoyable fall hiking:

    Mount Cardigan:

    Located in the town of Orange, the West Ridge Trail offers relatively easy grades all the way up a gentle giant, known locally as just Cardigan. Standing at 3,155 ft, Cardigan’s open ledges provide the look and feel of a big mountain without the usual difficulty. Hikers will enjoy a gentle uphill climb for 1.3 miles to the summit where a treat of a view awaits. To find the trail head, take Fairgrounds Road in Canaan off of Route 118 (about a mile from the junction of 118 and Route 4). Follow the brown State Park signs along the road to its terminus and park in the upper-most lot. There is no parking fee, but arrive early to secure a “spot”.

    Mount Willard:

    Mount Willard is located at the tip of the scenic fall foliage destination known as Crawford Notch. The summit, which offers a balcony-seat view of the Notch, is located 2,865 feet above sea level and is easily accessible after 1.6 miles of scenic hiking. Grades are never difficult, and other points of interest such as Centennial Pool exist along the way. The Hitchcock Flume is also nearby to the summit down a rough spur trail, so as you can see, there is a little something for everyone on this hike! Park at the dirt lot just south of the AMC Highland Center on Route 302 (check for road conditions following Tropical Storm Irene). Walk along the road or next to the rails for about one-tenth of a mile and find the Avalon Trail just behind the Depot on the left. Hook left at the first junction to continue up to the Mount Willard Summit. Note: There is no parking fee at the dirt lot, and please do not park at the AMC Center, as their limited spaces are for paying guests only!

    Crawford Notch in Green

    Crawford Notch from Willard...'Imagine' Autumn...

    Mount Major:

    Located in the Lakes Region off Route 11 in Alton Bay, the Mount Major Trail offers moderate hiking to a barren summit. Views look to the east, mostly, allowing those on top to take in Lake Winnipesaukee in all its autumn glory. This hike should not be attempted with kids in tow during times of wet weather, as the area within the last three-tenths of a mile is known to be very slippery, and can be quite dangerous; enjoy this peak with the family on a pleasant and dry day. The total hike, if done up and down the same way, is 3.2 miles and there is no fee for parking. Arrive early; this one is quite popular!

    Black Cap:

    Located mere miles from more popular peaks such as the Presidentials, Black Cap lies in the north-end of a line of mountains that begin in Redstone (a locality in Conway) and end at Kearsarge North (not to be confused with the next mountain in this list, Mount Kearsarge). From Rt. 16, take Hurricane Mountain Road in Intervale (a road that is not for the faint of heart behind the wheel) and follow to the height of the land. Park on the right hand side and take the Black Cap trail one mile or so to the summit. Enjoy views of Mount Chocorua and the Moat Range to the south, Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges to the west, and catch a glimpse of Mount Washington to the north. Along the way, enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of fall in a pleasant and well maintained forest. No fee to park.

    Black Cap View

    Black Cap View...just 'imagine'!

    Mount Kearsarge:

    With an elevation of only 2,937 feet Mount Kearsarge doesn’t garner the same attention as its White Mountain counterparts, which is to the advantage of the family-friendly hiker! Find the Winslow Trail, located in the town of Wilmot off of Route 11 about four miles past its split with Route 4 in Andover. Although this is an appropriate hike for many levels of skill, make no mistake about it; this trail is rocky, tangled-up in roots, and maintains a steady and moderate climb, covering about 1100 feet in skyward-gain over 2 miles. It’s one of the more difficult family-friendly hikes out there. The reward, however, is a grand 360 degree view from the summit that takes in Mount Cardigan, The Whites, and the Green Mountains among others; all terrific places to look upon during the foliage season. Plus, there is the optional climb up an exempt fire tower. Other easier trails exist that hikers can take to reach this peak, but the Winslow trail will offer a nice mix of challenge and autumn scenery. There is a minimal parking fee at this, the highest peak in the Merrimack Valley.

Hopefully you will find these recommendations well-suited for your family foliage hiking this year. It’s also a great idea to check with the nearby ranger stations to ask for more detailed trail descriptions, or to even do a bit of internet research yourself. As a final note, always remember that there is no shame in turning back from a hike that you’re no longer enjoying, feeling safe with, or able to physically complete.

More hiking recommendations can be obtained by emailing me or by replying to this blogpost; I’m always happy to help point your compass in the right direction!

Happy trails, and I hope to see you again real soon for a foliage update from the White Mountains, and more foliage, hiking, and photography related information! Be well!

Jul 2 2011

Mount Willard

Difficulty: 2/10 Scenery: 7/10

With a low-to-moderate amount of effort, hikers of all ages and ability levels can enjoy a stunning balcony seat view of scenic Crawford Notch. While the hike itself offers a nice trio of rewards (Centennial Pool, Hitchcock Flume, and the view from the top), don’t expect to find solitude. Mount Willard sees a great deal of foot traffic due to its proximity to the AMC Highland Center. It is also one of the more well-known and short hikes in the Crawford Notch area.

Centenial Pool

Centenial Pool

Park at one of the small dirt lots on either side of Rt. 302, at the town line of Hart’s Location and Carroll (either just at the height of the hill heading West, or just after the Highland Center if you’re going East). Right behind the yellow train station, take the Avalon Trail (signed well) for about a hundred feet and then turn left onto the Mount Willard Trail. The trail ascends gradually over easy terrain. With more dirt than rocks along the trail, footing can be slick and just muddy enough to cause a slip or two in wetter weather. After about .1 miles, the trail is overtaken by a very shallow but somewhat wide water path, which is easily negotiable.

Continuing along, the sounds of the nearby stream start to pick up. Along the way, be on the lookout for wildflowers like Spring Beauty, Bunchberry, and even a stray Terrillium or two. At about the .7 mile mark, the Centennial Pool is easily reached on the right side of the trail. This small water feature is a perfect place to relax; it’s a perfect example of the beauty that lies tucked away along New Hampshire’s roads less traveled. At 1.2 miles on the left, Hitchcock Flume offers an even more dramatic example of New Hampshire’s natural splendors.

After a bit more hiking, only .2 more miles, the summit is reached and the view is captivating; Crawford Notch’s upper terrace, indeed. The view down Rt. 302 is a sight to behold.

A very interesting aspect of this mountain is its elevation; while it’s quite high, it can easily sit just below some of the rainy weather systems associated with summer days in the Notch. Low clouds will tend favor higher summits like Mount Willey and Webster Cliffs, making a view down the Notch possible even on a touch-and-go weather day.

Crawford Notch Under Cloudcover

Summit View: Crawford Notch Under Cloudcover

The Ultralight Summary:

All three miles (1.5 each way, including the walk from the depot parking) are kid and dog friendly. No camping is permitted within Crawford Notch State Park except at designated areas. The trail is carry in-carry out. Appropriate for all four seasons with normal equipment considerations. Total time from bottom to top should not exceed 1.25 hours. Features of interest include Centennial Pool, Hitchcock Flume, and a view to the south from the summit.

This new blog category is a result of the many questions I get regularly about hiking in New Hampshire. These periodic blogs will chronicle my travels while reviewing the difficulty and scenery of each adventure. In fall of 2011, I will also begin regularly writing seasonal hiking features for New Hampshire’s Best Read Guide. As with any hike, your safety is your responsibility; please take it seriously!

Apr 4 2011

From Dissonance to Consonance…

New England’s seasons have a beautiful and predictable cadence; a rhythm that tends to define the everyday New Englander’s life. While many are celebrating the arrival of spring and all of its ‘sure signs’, the Mountains are paying no mind. Despite the steam billowing from the sugar shacks and the blooming crocuses, the mountains are doing as they do, and living by a different tempo; one that is quite slow in the winter, and much more allegro moderato during the other three seasons. On the whole, mountain-weather throughout the entirety of the year could be best described as a piacere.

Within the White mountains, at the brink of more spring-like conditions, is a doorway into a harsh and unforgiving environment; a threshold that few will ever cross. For those who are audacious enough to try, hazards and challenges surely await. This place is known as the Alpine Zone. It exists in places like the Presidential Range, and it is where winter will continue to hold on with its tightest and most enduring grip. That is, until it is good and done.

Unlike last week’s “April Fool’s storm”, which blanketed the whole state, the prolonged winter conditions within the Alpine Zone is not Mother Nature’s idea of tomfoolery; it’s just the way it is.

On Sunday, I took a trip away from the calm of the valley up to the peak of Mount Pierce to once again fuse art with winter adventure, perhaps for the final time this season. I intended to spend a few hours on the summit to experience the colorful embrace that the heavens offer to the mountains as the sun goes down in the winter months. Along the way I got a reminder of the incredible conditions above timberline.

Windy Afternoon

Windy Afternoon

The wind seemed to be on pace to compare to last weekend’s dicey weather, reaching speeds of about 40 mph. As I sat perched within the shelter of just a few tiny trees at the top of the mountain, I was ironically reminded of an ocean. I watched as piles of dry snow were blown across the exposed rocks and ice-covered cairns, like tiny frozen waves shattering against a barren shoreline. My jacket made sounds like a beach-house flag flapping upon itself incessantly. Every now and then the wind would take a brief and silent rest, giving me reprieve from the blowing snow and biting cold. I observed the Mountain Range for a few hours in these conditions, watching the shadows of Mounts Eisenhower, Franklin and Monroe move slowly and eventually disappear in the diffuse light of the sunset. The result was a conclusion that was as awe-inspiring as ever. The sunset itself was intense and vibrant, and for just a few moments some of that color spilled across the western slopes of the Presidential Range. The excursion was well worth the climb, the endurance of the summit conditions, and the subsequent headlamp-hike back down into the Crawford Notch.

Presidential Sunset

Presidential Range Sunset

Drift Formations at Sunset

Drift Formations at Sunset

Until we meet again, thank you ever so kindly for reading. We’ll see you again soon!