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North Pack Monadnock in Spring

North Pack Monadnock lies in southeastern New Hampshire, 12 miles away from its brawny, more famous and far more popular cousin, Mt. Monadnock. Hiking Mt. Monadnock is a gorgeous, hamstring-pulling adventure filled with people young and not-so-young. But if you’re looking for a pleasant time in nature, alone or nearly so, I recommend nearby North Pack.

 

It’s a lovely hike for people and dogs, gentle but steady uphill and downhill, only one somewhat steep bit, and 6.2 miles roundtrip. The elevation gain varies according to what source you read, but appears to be between 1300 and 1400 feet, a great warm-up to start the hiking season!

Kim with boulders and dogs North Pack Monadnock

We took Ted’s Trail up (to the intersection with Cliff Trail) and were accompanied much of the way by a charming stream that made for picturesque moments and handy drinking spots for the canine contingent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny droplet streams of water splitting going down rocks and wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stream also wandered in and among clumps of boulders, offering various small waterfalls and pools.

great shot of two dark boulders atop long high textured grey ones north pack monadnock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juniper and Cindy at base of rocks with water and brown leaves North Pack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had nearly perfect weather and conditions. The trail was dry underfoot. On April 22, after the snowy winter of 2011, only the tiniest few patches of the white stuff remained. The temperature was 50°- 55°; and the sun shone. There was a bit of haze, which we never noticed until we had a long view, as we did from the south ledges where we stopped for lunch.

Kim with Juniper, Cindy and Pixie on south ledges North Pack Monadnock April 22, 2011

The only thing that irritated me about this trail was the number of false summits. I swear I said, “Here we are, this must be the top” about seven times. Because the websites we read about the summit claimed it had limited views, we were surprised to find quite an expansive summit awaiting us, with a really humongous cairn and plenty of room to roam around and explore. The views were pretty, too. Just keep following those blue blazes!

 

Yes, we did see Mt. Monadnock, recognizable by its rocky top and for standing by itself. I’ve included a photo of it here. The haze made it hard to discern its solid rock cone, but I can’t complain about such a wonderful day.

Mt Monadnock as seen from North Pack Monadnock April 22, 2011

Coming down we switched to Carolyn’s trail to enjoy the loop experience for different views and sights. The first quarter of the return trip meandered down slabs, not at all like Ted’s trail. That Carolyn sure likes her ledges!

 

Once past the ledges, the trail was a sweet, easy ramble that eventually joined up again with Ted’s and led us back to the trailhead.

cindy and juniper in dry leaves by a tree with bole and my fanny pack behind them North Pack Monadnock

The dogs slept like rocks all the way home.

 

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Marching Up Moosilauke

We were blessed with Goldilocks weather: not too hot, not too cold; not too sunny, not too cloudy. I was supremely grateful. The last three hikes I’ve co-led were like climbing through hot soup.  My clothes were soaked within the first half hour.

Not only the weather made the day special. My friend Nancy flew in from CA to join me. Moosilauke was the first hike we ever did together, back in 2002. Unfortunately, she got bumped from her original flight and neither of us slept the night before the hike until she walked through my door at 2:00 a.m. But who needs sleep when you’ve got good company?

Which we had in spades. We had a group of 13 fine souls signed up. But when it came time to head out, we were missing Randy. I was surprised because Randy had hikedwith me the weekend before and I knew he was excited to do his first 4000 Footer. We waited a while, but then had to press on.

Mt Moosilauke AMc July 31, 2010 co-lead w/ Leslie Greer, Nancy Holland came too

Gorge Brook Trail Up

Very soon we crossed a bridge.

The trail had delightful footing, lots of pine needles, much like trails in the west. The brook gurgled chattily by our side, Gorge Brook, of course, the namesake for our eponymous trail, and we enjoyed sweet glimpses of coursing water and rock through the trees.

Mt Moosilauke AMC July 31, 2010 co-lead w/ Leslie Greer and Nancy Holland came too

Mt Moosilauke AMC July 31, 2010 co-lead w/ Leslie Greer and Nancy Holland came too

Leslie, our fearless leader, had us hike for half an hour, then take a five-minute break for water, snack or other necessities, a schedule calculated to give us a generous 45 minutes or so for lunch and exploring at the top and still keep us to book time overall.

We marched on as the trail steepened, getting to know one another.

Mt Moosilauke AMC July 31, 2010 co-lead w/ Leslie Greer and Nancy Holland came too

You could say that Moosilauke is a hike connected by lodges. At the base of many of the trails stands Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, a wooden ski lodge constructed in the 1930s from nearby spruce, full of character, now owned by Dartmouth College. Ravine Lodge serves breakfast and dinners to guests, much like the AMC huts in the Whites, staffed, in this case by Dartmouth students and alums. Overnight rates are unbelievably reasonable and the lodge is open to the public.

Best of all, you can start and end the hike using indoor plumbing!

Moosilauke Ravine Lodge AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010

Lucky Thirteen

We continued on through the woods, with surprisingly few bugs. I switched with Leslie and took the sweep position. We kept to a moderate pace, working up a light sweat, just enough to enjoy the break when it came.

Four thousand footers tend to be all up, then all down. You spend the morning going steadily, sometimes steeply, up hill; eat lunch; then spend the afternoon coming steadily, sometimes steeply, down. Occasionally, there’s a bit of level trail, rare enough to be noticed. Speaking for myself, I rejoice to see dirt on the trail as opposed to rock and root. Dirt feels like sofa cushions for the feet.

As we finished up our second break, Leslie and I did the usual head count. “All here,” I said.

AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010 Nancy's friendAMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010 AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010 AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010

“No,” she said. “We’re supposed to be 13.” Kristen reminded her we had to leave somebody behind and we were just about to start off again, when I recognized a guy speeding up the trail towards us wearing a cowboy hat. I swear, just at the moment Leslie had counted him back into the group, a breathless, drenched Randy arrived, having caught up to us from over half an hour behind. We all applauded and gave him a few minutes before moving out.

AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010

Getting to Views

Not long afterward, as we gained more elevation to arrive at 3850 feet, we came to our first cleared outlook, in this case, to the South. From here we could see Mt. Kineo and Carr Mountain, according to The 4000-Footers of the White Mountains by Steve Smith and Mike Dickerman, inveterate hikers of the Whites. All I know is, it was one fine view and we all stood there, oohing and aahing.

AMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010 View to the SouthAMC Moosilauke hike 7/31/2010 View to the South

From there we ascended steadily enough that conversation slowed as we needed more breath. We went back into woods for a while, passing a couple more outlooks as we hiked. Being sweep, I could cheat and stop to admire the views even though it wasn’t yet break-time.

It’s little wonder that Moosilauke is such a popular hike.

Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010

For a 4000-Footer, it’s pretty easy, not too long, and chock-full of vistas.

At last we came to the last rocky slog to the summit, which promised not only lunch, but 360° views that show huge swathes of NH, parts of Vermont, and, off to the Northeast, wave upon wave of mountains, Franconia Ridge backed by the Presidentials, among others.

Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010

By the time I arrived, the group had donned more clothing to avoid getting over-heated bodies chilled by the wind and settled down in two groups to partake of their repast. At various points, someone would wander off to all points of the compass to take in the sweeping panorama.

I had kept a wary eye on Nancy, waiting for her jet lag and lack of sleep to kick in, but she hiked with ease all the way up. In fact, everybody seemed in great shape. All enjoyed the rest, though, and the summit treats we leaders brought: chocolate covered peanuts and dark chocolate almond bark.

Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010

Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010

A Bit of History

The first trail up to the summit was cleared in 1840 and that year Mrs. Daniel Patch, again according to Smith and Dickerman, became the first woman to climb the mountain. At the top, apparently, she fixed a cup of tea! Imagine carrying a tea cup in your pack, along with tea, fire starter and a tea pot. Did she take lemon or milk, I wonder.

Back to lodges for a moment. The top of Moosilauke used to have one right on the very summit on which we sat. The first hotel, sporting six rooms, opened in 1860 and was built of stone,. They note that it was expanded several times and had several names: Prospect House, Summit House, Tip-Top House. A bridle path was built up to it, for obvious purposes, part of which was expanded into a carriage road that actually charged tolls until 1919.

I could still see the stony remains of part of a room, or foundation, of the last summit retreat. I’d have taken a picture but a group of kids was sheltered from the wind in the vee where two low walls stood and I didn’t want to bother them. You’ll just have to use your imagination to picture it.

Coming Down the Carriage Road

I was reluctant to leave, but time waits for no woman, not for Mrs. Patch and not for me. We looped onto the Carriage Road to descend, which was a lovely trail with open views and some of the best-looking cairns I’ve seen. I suppose their height (over six feet) attests to the amount of snow that falls on the summit and the popularity of Moosilauke as a winter hiking destination. Mt Moosilauke AMC Hike co-lead w/ leslie greer 7-31-2010

Beyond the cairns, you can see the bump of South Peak, our next goal, with the trail etched into its wooded sides.

Descending strains the knees and quads already tired from the 3.7 mile climb up, which bothered a few folks, whereas ascending had strained the heart and lungs, which tended to tax other folks. Each to her or his own. I played sweep again and enjoyed some quiet moments enjoying the scenery as I waited for a couple of unscheduled “separation” (pee) breaks.

Hanging Out with Wildflowers

I enjoyed some time with wild flowers. Approaching the summit, on the grassy part called “the balcony,” I’d seen Diapensia, a hardy little white flower

diapensia mt moosilauke AMC hike co-lead w/ Leslie Greer July 31, 2010that braves the toughest alpine conditions and was still blooming on the last day of July.

There also was a nice patch of Indian Pipe on the way down, so-called, because of its obvious resemblance to the long clay pipes Native Americans used in ceremonies.

Indian pipe mt moosilauke AMC hike co-lead w/ Leslie Greer July 31, 2010

On the way up as well as on the way down, Turtleheads bloomed, a flower I loved in part because it took so long before I saw my first one. I’ve never seen a mountain strewn with so many stands of them. As we hiked down, I noticed Brenda poised over a particular Turtlehead. When I approached, she showed me the colorful beetle lurking on one of the leaves.

Turtlehead flower w/ bug or beetle Mt Moosilauke AMc hike 7-31-2010

All in all, it was a hike to make Goldilocks happy. Not too hard, not too easy. Not too high, nor too long. Not too slow, not too fast. This AMC trip to Mt. Moosilauke was most definitely Just Right.

Face made on stone Mt Moosilauke AMc hike 7-31-2010

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Looping Mts. Welch and Dickey

Saturday I co-led my second Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hike, this time with Robin, the woman who leads hikes all over the world, the one who got me interested in leading for the AMC in the first place. We were lucky with the weather this time, in that it didn’t rain.

We’d had to cancel our first attempt at this hike back in May. The trails on these two mountains, Welch & Dickey, near Campton, NH, frequently sport slabs, long patches of bare rock. Sometimes you go across them, sometimes down and sometimes up. In any direction, you don’t want to be messing with steep bare slab when it’s rain-slippery. Not if you want to come back with all your hikers intact.

It didn’t rain but there was a lot of moisture on the hike, mostly in the form of sweat falling from my forehead. The temperature remained in the high 80s, with what felt like equally high humidity and the sun blazed onto the rock. In other words, it was hot. Every little breeze was a blessed event.

First Challenge

The first dilemma arose before we took our first step. One of the hikers locked herself out of her car, but that wasn’t all. She locked herself out because she was anxious about her wallet, which had been stolen in a rest stop on her drive up to NH. No one’s cell phone got reception in the mountains, so she had to get down from the trailhead to the road to call in her missing cards before someone had a field day with them. Since she couldn’t get into her car, someone had to drive her.

With the pressure on, Robin remained calm. We agreed that I’d drive our unfortunate comrade to find help for her bank account and also for her car, while Robin led the rest of the group up the trail to our first summit, Mt.Welch. With luck, Charlotte and I would catch up with the group at some point, but if not, I’d leave a note on Robin’s windshield telling her what our plan was.

Second Challenge

Charlotte and I successfully accomplished our missions. Now the trick was to catch up to the others when they had an hour’s lead on us. Did I mention it was hot?

Fortunately, Charlotte is a born hiker. I could hardly keep up with her. She didn’t eat or drink, hardly, she just hiked. She said it was nervous energy, but I don’t think so; she’s just strong. Here she is at the start of the hike.

charlotte at start of trail up mt. Welch

I wondered as I mopped my face how Robin and the others were faring. Meantime, Charlotte and I did a little trail repair (replacing some moss that grew like a miracle in the middle of hot baked slab that somebody had dislodged). And climbed a cool crevice.charlotte climbin up a crevice or crag on mt. Welch

We also managed to help a stranded hiker whose group had left her while she clutched in a moment of fear trying to climb up some steep slab. Charlotte took her pack and I stood next to her and together we told her where to put her feet and hands.

Once she got past that hard spot, she was fine. So fine, in fact, she and her group passed us later, thanking us again over her shoulder as she sped by. I think actually it was the other way around. It gave me an energy boost to help her out.

orange toadstool mt Welch

The Views

Along the way we saw things both small, like this vivid toadstool in the woods and large, like the slabby side of Mt. Dickey that we would later hike down, from our perspective looking like the side of a slumbering elephant.

side of Mt Dickey from welch plateau

There are several reasons to hike the Welch-Dickey loop trail. The first is the views. So is the second. The third is the sense of what a mountain is that you get from marching on its bones rather than its skin of dirt and trees.

As we neared the summit of Mt. Welch, we turned to look back at the rocky plateau from which we had seen our first 180° spread of mountains, greenery and the twin ribbons of the Mad River and Route 49 winding along beside it.

Looking down on Mt. Welch rocky slab plateau from near cone summit

After enjoying the gorgeous views east and south, we hauled ourselves up to the peak of Mt Welch. What to our wondering eyes did appear? A bunch of backpacks and gnoshing hikers, our very own group eating lunch at the summit!

Eating lunch on top of Mt. Welch

On to Mt. Dickey

Our next mountain, Mt. Dickey, is perhaps underappreciated after the wondrous slabs and views of Welch, but it has its moments. Starting out to hike the half-mile to the top of Dickey leads you to the edge of a cliff. The trail disappears and one can only presume there’s some death-defying leap to doom in store. It’s a moment that instills excitement, or horror, depending.

We all made it down alive, then up again, which is the way “ridge” trails tend to go in the Whites, and stopped for a break. It’s almost impossible to drink enough water when you’re sweating so much. To wit very few of us required, in AMC jargon, a “separation break” to relieve ourselves.

Taking a break on Mt. Dickey

The trail down from the top of Dickey is, I have to say, wonderful. There’s a fabulous view to the north and, despite some haze, you can see all the way to the Twin Mountains on the northern edge of the Presidentials, two identical little pale blue bumps against the horizon, roughly 50 miles away as the crow flies.

view of Twin Mountains north on Mt Dickey

Then there’s the fun of the trail itself. Check out these slabs!

Megan sitting on long slab trail Mt. Dickey

Robin, Dave and John on slab trail Mt. DickeyOur hike was billed as a beginner hike. Robin and I hoped that some people who were not old hands in the Whites would come try it out, and several did. They found it challenging, sometimes because it was steep, sometimes because it was scary, and sometimes because it kept going up, with much of the elevation gain coming in chunks. And, yes, it was also hot.

We got some friendly comments about how people now realized AMC stood for Appalachian Mountain Club, not Appalachian Hill Club. Or how they thought beginner hike meant easy hike. But they all stuck it out; everyone summited two not-insignificant mountains in the White Mountains, characterized by most through-hikers as the hardest mountain range of the whole 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

As we neared the trailhead parking lot, we passed the remains of an old root cellar from somebody’s home long ago, a glimpse into a different time and way of life.

It was a great group of people that banded together to succeed in hiking one of the more beautiful spots in NH. Well done, everyone.

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