As usual, I'm busy poking my nose into the woods. Here's a recap of what I found or revisited this spring. Happy hiking! --Paul William
PEAK BRIEFS (in no particular order):
Those punny AMC People: Liebskind's Loop, George's Gorge, Brad's Bluff, Lila's Ledge. If you're looking for a short & sweet leg stretcher in the vicinity of Pinkham Notch the day before or the day after you beat the crap out of yourself hiking the Presidentials or Carter-Moriah-Wildcat peaks, and you happen to also like puns, this is your hike. There are fine views of the Notch from this crag along with a narrow gorge with a cascade. The punny trails are named for old AMC luminaries. 2.5RT from the AMC center; WMG
Burns Hill is in fact burnt. This fine small peak (751') located in Hitchiner Town Forest in Milford, NH was new to the 2021 5th edition of the Southern New Hampshire Hiking Guide. There’s a great view ledge at the top looking toward the Wapack Range; the area around the ledge shows the scars of a recent fire. Other features include stone walls, scrambly ledges, and meadows. 1.5RT; longer hikes are possible. SNHHG
The badgers have been at it at Badger Hill. Badger Hill within Mile Slip Town Forest (Milford, NH), once had a nice view from its summit (781') before it grew in. The trails fell into disrepair and it hasn’t helped that there is an ATV accessible trail to the summit with associated partying and debris left behind. However, the hill does offer some really interesting boulders and rock formations, and an attractive trail along lovely Mitchell Brook at the foot of the mountain. There was some evidence of new trail building when I visited in May of 2021, but as of yet none of it is marked and it’s unclear if all the construction is official or bootleg. 2.2RT including brook.
Good golly Mount Molly. The trail system on Mt. Molly (1,250) in New Durham, NH is under development by Southeast Land Trust but in the mean time you can pick up the older, unrefined trails to the summit from either Merrymeeting Road or unmaintained Chelsey/ Devil's Den Road (see my description of this road under Devil’s Den, above). There are no signs but the route is easy to follow, if a bit eroded from latter approach. GPS tracks of trails on the mountain are in OSM and are readily accessible via most GPS apps. There is a truly fine open ledge on the summit with 180 degree views east and north. 2.6RT with road walk.
Knight’s Pond and that big unmentioned cliff. Knight’s Pond (Lakes Region Conservation Trust) in Alton, NH appears in successive editions of the Southern New Hampshire Hiking Guide but there is no mention of Long Stack Mountain Precipice (1,200) which looms above the pond and is also within conserved land. An enjoyable, rugged marked loop trail circles the scenic pond and is probably best enjoyed when mosquitos are not in season. Getting up to the precipice requires some good bushwhacking skills: an old cart path, severely eroded, ascends the mountain from a gravel pit a bit further east along Rines Road from the Knight’s Pond trailhead. The cart path climbs past the wooded summit (off trail, private, and hosting a McMansion) to the north side of the mountain where bare ledges offer narrow but interesting views north toward Winnipesaukee. A vague herd path leaves westerly right at the start of these ledges and finds the edge of the cliff where there are airy views down at Knight’s Pond, Winnipesaukee, and beyond. 2.4RT precipice. 2.5RT pond circuit, SNHHG.
Not that Whiteface Mountain. . .no, not that one either. . . There are several mountains in the northeast by this name (one NH4K peak, one ADK 46er, one in the Belknap Range. . .) and the name itself is a good indication that there’s a big ledge involved. This one, in Wolfeboro NH (1,339), was just included in the newest edition of the Southern New Hampshire Hiking Guide. A new trail leads to the top of a fine northeast facing ledge. 2.9RT, SNHHG
Fogg Hill is a good place to look at trees or maybe fog. Another inclusion in the most recent edition of the SNHHG, Fogg Hill (980', Lakes Region Conservation Trust) in Center Harbor, NH in doesn’t really have much in the way of views but the rocky and mossy ledges are pleasant, and there is an interesting split boulder at the summit that looks like the fossilized head of a kaiju. Bear Pond, on a spur trail, is worth a look.
Maybe revisiting Thompson Falls. I wasn’t sure if I’d been to this waterfall before, which is located at the end of a short trail starting at the Wildcat Ski Area parking lot, so I took the hike. The falls (my photo sucked, so no image for you) were about 15’ high with ample water flow and a nice swimming hole below. Some knucklehead had scattered a box of powdered laundry detergent over the rocks below the falls. What is wrong with people. 1.2RT, WMG
Spring Snow in the Belknaps. The Belknaps are always a great place to nice, with their multiple open and craggy summits and lenghty trail network with many trailheads and loops. This time it was the first day of spring and I wanted to be done with the snow for the season, but we got blanketed the night before. I didn't mind: temperatures were mild and the light, fluffy spring snow was pleasant (if slippery) walking. We hiked a good loop over the Quarry and Straightback summits from the northwest (Reed Road trailhead) , and OAB to Mt. Major where the weather discouraged the usual summit crowds. The beagle approved. 9.0RT for this particular hike; SNHHG
Isinglass Falls: What a dump. Isinglass Falls is located within the Gonic Trails in Rochester, NH on the Isinglass River. The falls and the woods around the trail system were conserved by the Turnkey Landfill/ WMNH to smooth over local sentiment when they applied to expand their monster landfill a short distance to the north. The conservation area is well sheltered from the offensive dump itself--the only sign you'll notice of it is the distant cry of trash-raiding seagulls. Approach the trailhead from the south, not the north, if you don't want to see the landfill. The falls are lovely; as you view them maybe contemplate giving up paper plates and plastic cups for lent. 1.5RT
Green Mountain. . .but aren't they all? The trails and firetower on Effingham's Green Mountain (1,883) have been around for quite a while and are part of the Forest Society's High Watch Preserve. Although trees have grown high enough to shrink the former 360-degree view from the tower, the gawking is still quite good. There are three trails to the summit; take either the Dearborn Trail or HIgh Watch Trail; the Libby Trail is an old access road and is less pleasant. The summit can be reached in 1.5 miles. The little spur trail to the sub-peak of Hanson Top, with fine views E, can be added in with just a little more effort. SNHHG.
Be gentle with Moody Mountain. This small mountain (1,419) with a decent view from summit ledges (an easy 0.9 to the top) is within the Forest Society's Moody Mountain Forest in Wolfeboro, NH. The dilapidated cabin (on adjacent private land) sees its fair share of abusive behavior, so maybe appreciate its rustic Taj Mahal glory without entering. 1.5RT
Visitez les corniches de French maintenant! Pardon my French, but yes, you should visit this surprising little crag (1,360ft) with 360-degree views in the Upper Valley town of Plainfield, NH as soon as possible. The Upper Valley Land Trust and a generous private landowner are responsible for this gem. 3.5RT; longer loops are possible.
Off the not-so-unbeaten path on Prospect Mountain in Holderness, NH (2,064). You won’t find it in any guidebooks, but it’s there: a well beaten trail system to this fine clifftop view looking east over the Lakes Region. Look for it on Alltrails.com. There are two nice main loops, one which passes through an attractive evergreen forest, one through a partially logged deciduous forest. Choose your adventure. 3.8RT; longer loops are possible.
There once was a man named Whitten, whose hill on which you are now sittin’. Seriously, this new addition to the Southern New Hampshire HIking Guide, Whitten Woods, is a sweetheart of a hike, with sweeping views from the twin peaks of Church Hill (1,136, 1,173), a southerly extension of the Squam Range in Ashland, NH. The forest preserve is managed cooperatively by three land trusts. It was heavily harvested of timber before it was acquired but the young trees are springing back, the views of Squam Lake are awesome, and the trails are well conceived. Look for additional new trails here in the future. 3.1RT, SNHHG
You can ski it, hike it, and pray it. The Holderness School’s “Ski Hill”, located right in the NH town with the same name, has a great network of trails used locally for skiing, hiking, and mountain biking. There’s a few decent slot views from vantage points on the hill, including one from the outdoor chapel. All kneel. 3.3RT; shorter and longer hikes possible.
It’s a Pumpkinseed! No wait, it’s a bridge. . . Livermore Falls, now part of Livermore Falls State Park in Campton, NH, was once a booming mill site. The falls and an impressive gorge on the Pemigiwassett River, along with the flood-scoured ruins of the mill and the unusual “pumpkinseed” bridge remains, make this a fun and interesting short walk. It’s also a fantastic swimming hole in the summer if you can find a place to park. The state charges a fee in season. 0.4RT with some poking around.
It ain’t just about the boulders at the Boulder Loop Trail. Located off the Kancamagus Highway in NH, the Boulder Loop promises boulders but neglects to mention the massive clifftop vista above—one of the finest of many in the area, comparable or better than the nearby ledges of Hedgehog and Potash Mountain. A nice loop winds its way through the boulder fields and over the ledges. 2.7RT, WMG
Best seat in the house. If you’re looking for good seaside (or in this case bracken bay) hiking in New Hampshire, Adams Point, a craggy escarpment on Great Bay in Durham is one of the prettiest spots around. Parking is tight, so aim for weekdays and off hours. A trail winds around the crag and interior meadows, with many rocky outlooks and spurs down to the water. The point is a state wildlife management area. Keep an eye out for horseshoe crabs. 1.5RT
Second best seat in the house. If you’re going to visit Adams Point (previous entry), you might as well pick up the tail end of the Sweet Trail in Newmarket NH. You can hike up tiny but steep Jefts Hill and continue north for several miles, but the sweet spot is the saltmarsh overlook at the end of the trail. Mosquitos in the summer will carry your ass away, but the view’s worth a pint or two. 1.0RT hill & marsh; the entire Sweet Trail is about 4.0 one way. SNHHG.
I’d tell you where this is, but I’d have to kill you. Sorry, there are some secrets you just have to find on your own
The Boulder is bolder but the Cascades are cooler. If you’re in the mind to visit the largest rock in the state of New Hampshire, Madison Boulder (plunked down by the glacier in the town of the same name, how thoughtful of it) you ought to also check out Madison Cascades, which can be got to from behind the Madison Historical Society Building via a marked trail. Nice spot to cool off on a hot day. 1.5RT
All tapped out at Patch Hill and Mayflower Hill. These two rocky hills located in Amherst and Milford, NH, are pleasantly ledgey and scattered with fun historic mementos of an old, tapped out granite quarry. There are rock piles, pieces of machinery, quarry pits, cut blocks, old foundations, and a spare view here and there. The two hills are connected by a trail system. 4.4OAB to both.
Its west face gouged into a precipice by the continental ice sheet lumbering through the Valley of Vermont, White Rocks Mountain, just south of the City of Rutland and the Killington Ski Area, is one of the finest cliff faces along the Long Trail. I'd visited the view ledge (elevation 2,100ft; 0.2mi down a spur trail) during a multi-day Long Trail hike in the 1990s, but only this year got around to visiting the storied Ice Beds which lie at the foot of the massive talus slope (one of the largest barren talus slopes in New England) at the mountain's foot.
The talus and cliffs are made of white quartzite, formerly beach sand millions of years ago, lithified by continental collisions. The rock is very smooth and resistant to weathering, making it difficult for plants to take root. The white color of the rocks reflect light, keeping the cavities below the enormous boulders cool year round and slowing the melting of ice and snow that accumulates in the winter. The result is natural air conditioning, making the ice Beds a great destination on a hot summer day.
Gallery: Ladybug on lichen on quartzite; view from the top; Elizabeth emerging from boulders; cat's claw found in owl pellet; taking a rest partway up; scrambling over boulders.
There is no trail connection between the Ice Beds Trail and the cliff top vista; it's out-and-back on two separate trails (same trailhead, off VT 140/ Sugar Hill Road, at the White Rocks National Recreation Area parking lot) on account of the cliffs. Both routes are great hikes on their own: The Keewaydin Trail, Long Trail, and Overlook Spur must be taken to get to the cliffs (3.2mi OAB), passing a waterfall along the way, and the Ice Beds Trail climbs a barren knob with fantastic views of the ledges and talus slopes before dropping to the bottom of the boulder field (1.5mi OAB).
We weren't intending to, but once we started exploring the boulders one thing lead to another and soon we were half way up the talus and decided to continue bushwhacking the rest of the way. Most of the talus boulders were quite huge and impossible to move even two-thirds of the way up the slope but there were occasional loose rocks that would shift under our feet, so care was required. The upper part of the climb involved scrambling up a knife-edge arete and steeply climbing up the treed side of it to avoid the cliffs. One could easily end up in a not-so-good place without solid navigation instincts and a good understanding of rock slides and topography. Once at the top, we picked up the Overlook Spur and followed the trails back to the parking lot, stopping at the waterfall to dip our feet along the way.
Don't try this at home, kids.
Water is (almost) everything
Dehydration on a hot day can result in debilitating heat exhaustion or life-threatening heat stroke. If you don’t have a cast-iron gut like me (I frequently drink untreated mountain stream water), either bring plenty of water with you and/or bring a means of purifying wild water. Unfortunately, “plenty” is relative to your individual physiology and physical conditioning, the environmental conditions you’re hiking in (shade/full sun, temperature, wind, humidity), your level of activity, what you consumed prior to and during hiking, and the distance and elevation gain you are hiking.
It’s not just water, it’s electrolytes:
When you exert yourself, especially on humid days, you sweat out important nutrients (especially sodium and potassium) that balance the chemistry of your body. If that chemistry is out of balance, you can “bonk”, i.e. lose energy rapidly, become nauseous, experience painful muscle cramps, or collapse. Electrolyte imbalance can exacerbate conditions that lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. To compensate for electrolyte loss, practice nutritional eating habits (especially in advance of your hike) and bring balanced food with you and/or bring electrolyte supplements. Natural foods that are good for electrolyte balancing include dairy products (including cheese, yogurt, and powdered milk), coconut water, pomegranate juice, watermelon, avocado, spinach, and bananas.
Manufactured electrolyte supplements come in a variety of forms including pre-mixed drinks (like Gatorade), tablets to mix with water, “goo” or gel form supplements, and certain brands of energy bars. In the summer I always carry emergency electrolyte tablets in my 1st aide kit and I usually eat a couple bananas as part of my pre-hike breakfast. Some people pre-treat their to-go water with electrolytes. You can even freeze a liter of juice and or electrolyte water mixes the night before and enjoy a cool drink along the trail. If you are carrying a sleeping bag with you, you can wrap a pint or quart of ice cream in the bag, which will insulate it from melting for hours even on really hot days, and enjoy a cold and electrolyte-rich ice cream lunch.
Hats with broad brims offer the best head protection but even a baseball cap will offer some sun protection.
During your hike you can cool yourself by dipping your hat, bandana, shirt, or small pack towel in a creek and letting the water run over you, or plunge right in and take a dip—your clothing will likely dry off quickly on a hot day, but you could also take along a spare pair of shorts and a small pack towel.
When resting, take your boots and socks off and let your feet cool (this will help reduce friction blistering, which is exacerbated by hot boots). For this reason, trail runners are often a better option than thick hiking boots on hot days.
Lastly, remember sunglasses because. . .
The devil is in the sun. If your route involves moderate to significant sun exposure (i.e. not just hiking heavily forested trails), bring sunscreen with a high SPF level (50+). If you do get sunburn, you’ll want to protect your skin from further damage; in such cases it’s wise to have brought a lightweight long sleeve shirt with you or an ultralight windbreaker. This can be helpful when your burnt skin—now less able to thermoregulate your body temperature—results in you getting a chill rapidly when temperatures drop later in the day (it’s even possible to become hypothermic by way of sunburn). Be aware that sunburn can contribute to heat exhaustion and heat stroke (as well as increasing your risk of developing skin cancer) by direct heating and by reducing your skin’s ability to thermoregulate.
Understand the symptoms of dehydration and act to remedy it immediately. Quench your thirst when you feel thirsty. Eat when you feel hungry. Stop and rest (preferably in the shade or in a breezy area) when you feel tired. Don’t wait until you’re exhausted. Examine your urine when you pee: dark yellow urine is a sign of dehydration; whitish urine is a sign of good hydration. Intentionally slowing your pace and resting more frequently can help reduce overheating and dehydration, too.
Understand the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke (follow the link for the full run-down). In a nutshell, heat exhaustion begins to develop when you’re moderately dehydrated, with or without an electrolyte imbalance. It is characterized by moist skin (often described as clammy or cool, but not always so if someone has been exerting themselves), exhaustion, and can include dizziness, muscle cramping ("heat cramps") and nausea. Heat exhaustion is treatable by getting yourself in the shade and/or cooling yourself in a brook, drinking and eating to replenish lost water and nutrients, and resting. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke—a life threatening and harder to treat condition. Heat stroke is characterized by extreme exhaustion or collapse, hot, dry skin with elevated body temperature, and impaired mental status—those suffering from heat stroke may not be aware of their danger. Unless treated it leads to loss of consciousness, organ failure, and death. People with heat exhaustion will usually need help—get them out of the heat, cool them off with water or wetted clothing, and if they are conscious and can tolerate it, feed them fluids and food—then help them find the shortest way out of the woods. This may require rescue services. Recovery times can be long and permanent organ damage is possible.
If you are doing all of the things you need to do to remain cool(er) and hydrated but you still feel unusually fatigued, consider shortening your hike or turning back.
DESTINATION AND TIMING
In addition to preparing with appropriate gear and self-care, you can also make your hot weather hike more enjoyable by tweaking your itinerary and the timing of your hike.
Time of day, season, and weather:
Hot spring days can often be harder to bear than hot summer days because of the lack of leaves on deciduous trees and the fact that your skin and body aren't yet accustomed to full-on heat after all that winter hiking—don’t underestimate the difficulty of hot spring weather hiking.
On hot days either in spring or summer, it makes sense to start hiking earlier in order to get some miles under your belt before the sun heats up the air. Alternately, you can start hiking later in the morning and enjoy the early evening cool-off along your descent—but keep in mind that (if weather conditions are otherwise constant) early morning temperatures are typically going to be cooler than early evening temperatures. Take advantage of rain forecasts: predictions of light rain on really hot days can be excellent conditions to hike in as long as you don’t mind getting a little wet, but keep in mind that warm rain at low elevations can turn into cold, hypothermia-inducing rain at higher elevations. During the hot summer days of my 1994 Appalachian Trail through-hike I often hiked in the rain in a T-shirt without a rain jacket; this practice not only cooled me off fast it also kept my rain jacket dry for use later in the day and helped wash some of the sweaty crud out of my shirt.
Even lower elevation mountains can offer cooling breezes: on summer days rising hot air in valleys can cause strong updrafts of cooling wind on exposed areas of higher ground, especially around cliff faces. In the northeast, the prevailing natural wind is often from the west or southwest on sunny days, so hiking the western side of the mountain may be windier and more cooling than hiking the eastern side. Keep the sun in mind, though: exposure above treeline may increase the risk of sunburn.
Deep, wooded stream valleys are often cooler on average than ridges or flats, and can offer the added pleasure of a dunk in a creek. As a rule, the northerly slopes of mountains are going to be cooler because they have less sun exposure, ridge tops are going to be warmer (but windier if they’re exposed), and oak or pine dominant woods are going to be warmer than maple, birch, or boreal spruce-fir forests. The relative warmth of these forest types also mirrors how soon brooks will dry out in summer. Open fields and meadows are among the hottest landscapes in the summer while areas with significant boulder fields will trap cool air and may even hold ice into the summer; these places can provide drafts of natural air conditioning (some famous examples include places like New Hampshire’s Ice Gulch, Devil’s Hopyard, and Subway in King Ravine, Vermont’s White Rocks Ice Beds and Smuggler’s Notch, and Maine’s Mahoosic Notch, among others). Planning hikes that place a good swimming hole near the end of the hike can be both pleasurable and advantageous; on really hot days plan hikes with swimming holes at several points along the route.
By choosing appropriate destinations and routes, and timing your hike with daily heating/ cooling cycles, you can often craft a hike that maximizes comfort on a hot day. For instance, starting early up a wooded ridgeline or warm side of the mountain in the morning (which would be hot in the afternoon), then traversing an open windy ridge mid-day, and finally descending along a cool mountain stream in a forested ravine in the afternoon is an excellent itinerary to beat the heat.
As far as I know, there isn’t a list of ‘Great Wonders of the Northeast’ but if there were, the annual display of alpine wildflowers in the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains would be one of them. I look forward to this event each year in the way some folks look forward to fireworks displays on the Fourth of July, and I hope you too will experience this brief but fantastic spectacle.
Although common in arctic and subarctic latitudes, in New England these plants, many of them rare or endangered in the eastern United States, only grow in the elevation-induced near-arctic conditions above 4,500 feet (on average). Because the growing season is so short and the weather so extreme, the plants tend to blossom all at once and in great array, carpeting the thin, rocky soils in a brilliant palette. Although you can see some of these plants at other New England alpine areas (most notably Mt. Marcy in NY, Mt. Mansfield in VT, Katahdin in ME, Moosilauke and Franconia Ridge in NH) at 7 square miles the Presidential Range is the by far the largest alpine zone in the northeast United States and has the greatest diversity of alpine flora.
The best place to see the alpine wildflowers are along the Crawford Path from Mt. Eisenhower through Lakes of the Clouds, the Alpine Garden on the east face of Mt. Washington, the "Monticello Lawn" between Mt. Clay and the summit of Mt. Jefferson, the Edmonds Col area between Mount Jefferson and Mount Adams, and the flats around Star Lake below Mount Adams. The best time to see the display is late May through early June (peak bloom fluctuates from year to year) but some flowers tend to peak sooner and some later. The showiest early blooms include the white Diapensia, also known as the "Pincushion Plant" (Diapensia lapponica) and pink Alpine Azalea (Kalmia procumbens), both of which grow in low, ground-hugging cushion-like clusters to better hold to thin soils and withstand the desiccating subzero winters, along with somewhat stouter lavender-colored Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum). Later, look for Labrador Tea (Rhododendron tomentosum), a small shrub with showy white blossoms and leaves with fuzzy undersides), and in late June the sunny yellow Mountain Avens (Geum peckii), pinkish-white Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) and delicately-leafed yellow Dwarf Cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana). Alongside these blooms, you'll also see creeping alpine willows and birches, and the famous and locally rare Bigelow Sedge, (Carex bigelowii) which passes for grass in the alpine zone.
All of these plants lead fragile and tenuous lives due to the extreme growing conditions and short seasons of the alpine zone. That being the case, when visiting the alpine zone it’s extremely important to stay on the marked trails and step only on rocks so that you won't trample the rare plants (even plants that look like ordinary grass may be endangered species in the alpine zone) so that this great spectacle will continue to amaze in the years to come. Sadly, each year I witness far too many people who are ignorant of the fragile nature of these rare plants (or who know but don't care). Trails in the alpine zone are often marked with lines of rocks on either side of the path to keep hikers from destroying the rare vegetation--please do the right thing and stay between the lines. Trust me, there is plenty of fine viewing right from the trail.