Saturday, January 26, 2013

Winter Hike of Mt Shaw and Black Snout, Ossipee Mountains, New Hampshire

The Ossipee Mountains of New Hampshire are a smaller range often overshadowed by the White Mountains to the North. This range has its own complex of hiking trails and has some excellent views of the Whites and Lake Winnipesaukee.
The Summit of Mt Shaw has a commanding view of the White Mountains
I know I'm probably the only person in Maine to ever say this, but thank goodness we finally have gotten some respectable winter weather and temperatures! Nothing ruins my day more than 45 degree days in January. MLK 2013 has brought with it a deep freeze as temperatures have plunged into the zeros and below zeros. Perfect hiking weather, right?

Mt Shaw is probably the closest summit to the place I live in Maine and I needed just a half day to bag this one. The whole Ossipee Mountains Region has always intrigued me because on a topographic map, it looks like New Hampshire's pimple. Seriously though, its almost a perfect circle and significantly separate from the White Mountains. Zoom out and see for yourself!

View Mt Shaw Hiking Trail in a larger map

There is a somewhat organized network of trails which crosses through the region and snowmobilers can cross the summit as well. I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of the higher summits accessible by snowmobile. The most direct trail up Mt Shaw crosses over publically accessible private land before entering the Castle in the Clouds Complex. The parking area is quite small and unmarked. I've marked it on the map above- its off of 171 in Tuftonboro. Its just before Sodom Road and a small bridge. If you're coming from the East and you start seeing signs for the Castle in the Clouds attraction, you've missed it. I missed it on the first pass!

Be warned, the parking lot has enough room for 3 cars at best. From here, there is an unmarked but well traveled trail that parallels the stream falling from Mt Shaw. Its slightly ambiguous in some sections, but even in the dead of winter, I was able to follow it to the summit.
The unmarked parking lot.
The trail follows the stream for the most part. It certainly makes the steep ascent more scenic!
Frozen stream
The total distance is about 7.5 miles including Black Snout. This was a very enjoyable trail, all the way to the summit. Sometimes trails in New Hampshire can just seem murderously steep without any views but this wasn't one of them! I found the ascent to be delightful. There was one notably difficult crossing of the stream which took a little bushwacking to find a place where the ice was thick enough to cross. In the summer I'm sure it's not a problem but in the winter I had to be creative. Otherwise it was a straightforward ascent.

The trail comes to a "T" about a mile from the summit. This section is clearly marked and you just need to hang a right. After a short, flat section, it comes to another "T"- to the left is the trail to Mt Shaw and to the right is the trail to Black Snout. Both have excellent views and you might as well hit them both while you're there. The route to the high point is partially snowmobile trails so be careful. Otherwise it is straightforward and the summit has a complete panorama of the Whites. You can see nearly every major summit from this point!
Mt Washington is clearly visible in the center of the picture!
Frozen Lake Winnipesaukee from the summit of Black Snout
Its tempting to descend directly from Mt Shaw but Black Snout is not to be missed. Its only a slightly shorter summit and it has an equally amazing view of the southern mountains and Lake Winnipesaukee. Both summits had some of the best views in the state! 

For a 7.5 mile hike, this was about as good as it gets!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Winter Hike of Mt Hale; New Hampshire 4,000-Footers

Mt Hale, at 4,055ft, is one of the easiest 4,000 footers to climb in New Hampshire.
On the trail to Mt Hale
My, oh my, we've had some extreme temperature variations up North lately. The second and third weeks in January brought both a weekend of 40-50°F and then a cold spell with highs in the teens and below zero lows. Kind of makes it a little difficult to plan hikes huh?

Anyways, last weekend I bagged Mt Hale as a sort of swan song for the university-less part of my winter. I know that once another spring semester of graduate school gets in full-swing, there will be less opportunities for these types of things. Mt Hale is a gentle summit in the way of 4,000-footers but is still a steep climb. Its about a 9.5 mile round trip in the winter but in the summer you can park at the actual trail-head and cut out about 5 miles out of the trip. In the winter, Zealand Rd is closed and you must hike in. This is a nice hike though! It follows the brook and offers some nice views of the surrounding summits.

View Mt Hale via Hale Brook Trail in a larger map

The map above should give you a basic idea of the hike and you can get directions to the parking lot from anywhere. From the parking lot, you cross the busy route 302 and follow snowmobile tracks up to the beginning of Zealand Rd. This part is closed to snowmobiles. Its a relatively flat 2.5 miles to get to the trailhead and there are a couple of sections where you can see the brook and take some nice photos. At first I thought this was going to add a pointless extra distance to the trip but I found the walk to be enjoyable.

It was almost 40 degrees when I reached the trailhead! I was hiking in spring clothes! From the trailhead, it is a steep 2.2 miles to the summit. You may want to bring some snow-shoes or crampons for this part. Especially towards the top, it can get icy and steep. For this warm day, I scarcely used my snowshoes, but it was nice to have them just in case.
Winter hiking at its finest
There are fleeting views of the Pemi Wilderness and Mt Carrigan
The Hale Brook trail up to the summit is not characterized by an abundance of views but there are some fleeting breaks in the foliage where you can see the Presidentials and the Pemi Wilderness. If you like to hike for views, I wouldn't recommend this trail but it was a nice and sheltered ascent up some gullys to the summit. As the elevation increased, I hit that certain elevation that exists on most 4,000-footers where the snow dramatically increases and every tree and rock seems to be completely covered in white. I've always noticed this on my winter trips and its a magical part of hiking during this season. It compensated for the lack of views.

I was on top of the summit before I even knew it. If you stand on the very top of the cairn, you can see North Twin and South Twin and the very tip-top of Carrigan but not much else. There is a nice, protected clearing where you can enjoy a little lunch or snack.
Looking towards the Sugarloafs
Classic view of the Presidentials on the drive back
Well, I'm glad I was able to climb another mountain before the next semester started. I love hiking in the Whites during the winter and I hope I can bag some more during this next busy season!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Winter Hiking on Mt Kearsarge (North Conway), New Hampshire

View from the summit of Mt Kearsarge North
This winter break has been so wonderful. I'm realizing that without the studying, I can fill all that time with outdoor adventures. I had another lovely little winter hike in the North Conway area this last week. Mt Kearsarge is located just North of North Conway and overlooks the entire Mt Washington Valley and eastern Whites. This is not to be confused with the 2,936ft Mt Kearsarge in central New Hampshire which is a shorter but more prominent summit. 

Mt Kearsarge North is 3,268ft and is a short but steep hike up to a bare summit with a large fire tower. Apparently, fire towers are not as common as they once were but this one has lasted and it makes for a well protected vantage point on a normally windy summit.

View Mt Kearsarge (North Conway) in a larger map

Getting to Mt Kearsarge is relatively easy- just turn off Hurricane Mountain Road outside of North Conway and drive about 1.5 miles down the road until you see the small parking lot on the left. It is a *tiny* parking lot for a scenic summit so it fills up quickly. There are few options for parking outside of this area as most the land is private. The trailhead is marked and the trail is easy to follow.

The trail to the summit is 3.1 miles, one-way and can be easily done in 1/2 a day. It does have about 2,500ft of elevation gain which may be too much for some. However it makes for an ideal first winter hike if you don't mind the steepness. The first part is gentle but it quickly ascends up the south side of the summit. We hiked without snowshoes, crampons or micro-spikes but they might be a good idea depending on the conditions. 
Looking towards Bartlett, New Hampshire
Looking towards Maine and Pleasant Mountain
The trail has some fleeting views along the way but pops up to the bare summit at the final 300 yards. In the winter it is windy and cold but the fire tower provides a nice spot for lunch and pictures. Its not often that you're able to spend more than a few minutes on a summit in the Whites! I took could take some great panoramic pictures from the cover of the tower. 
In the way of fire towers, this is a 5-star hotel
Half day hike, 360-degree views, not too far from North Conway... what more could you ask for?  Mt Kearsarge was one of the easier and more enjoyable summits I've hiked in the White Mountains. 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hiking Mt Chocorua, New Hampshire in the Winter

The summit of Mt Chocorua, New Hampshire
Well, I am proud of myself; I hiked another non-4,000-footer in New England. I'm one of those compulsive people who has a mountain tick-list a mile long and I receive a certain amount of deserved flack for it. I've met many hikers on the trails throughout Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and there really are two groups- the peak-baggers who exclusively bag 4,000-footers and those who basically climb anything with a view. On multiple occasions I've noticed that there's some playful antagonism between the two. I am a shameless peakbagger with an excel spreadsheet to keep track of all the lists I'm working on. But I'm also known to occasionally venture off the list and bag something just for the hell of it.

Mt Chocorua is a bald, 3,490ft summit with commanding views of the Mt Washington Valley, Maine and the eastern White Mountains. Its not on the 4,000-footer list, the 50 finest or 100 highest but it was one of the better views I've had in the Whites. The trail was very do-able although we did run into strong wind at the summit. Well worth the trip!
Summit Views from the Piper Trail
There are several ways to get to the summit of Mt Chocorua and we decided to do the Piper Trail. The parking lot is located 7.0 miles from Center Conway, NH. Its located just behind the general story and in the winter you have to pay $3.00 to park. In the summer, the Forest Service parking lot is open. 

The Piper Trail was well cut for us and easy to follow. There were many different turn-offs along the trail and there are options for doing the summit in a loop. We did an out-and-back hike which ended up being 9.0 miles from the parking lot to the summit. It starts at roughly 700ft and ascends about 2,700 ft to the summit. The trail starts out on a gentle slope and gets steeper as you get closer to the summit. Fortunately, it is a straightforward ascent; most other places I've hiked in the Whites have enough of the pointless up and downs to drive you insane. The views also get better as the summit gets closer!
Mt Chocorua from the Trailhead
Summit Views
The last 0.4 miles of the trail are very exposed and in the winter it was violently cold and windy. Its not uncommon for winds to blow over 50 miles an hour at the higher elevations and this day was no exception. We strapped on crampons and made a mad dash for the summit. The ambient temperature was already in the 20s and the wind was blowing so hard that I needed to hunker down to keep from being blown clear off the ridge. I wouldn't have wanted to spend too much time up there, but the views were nevertheless phenomenal. Absolutely one of the best summits in all of New Hampshire! Had the temperatures been warmer, I could have spent an hour just sitting up there! 

I would recommend taking crampons or micro-spikes in the winter and definitely snow shoes if it has snowed within a few days. I almost left mine in the car but I probably wouldn't have summited if I didn't bring them. Even if you don't summit, the hike is still worth it!
I love hiking in the winter!
That was a wonderful hike. I'd recommend it to my OCD, peak-bagging, 4,000-footer obsessed ilk in a heartbeat. 

...postscript: Mt Chocorua, as it turns out, is on a peak-bagging list- New Hampshire's 52 With a View. It wasn't the primary reason I hiked it, but I just had to share that!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!