Pawtuckaway State Park lies less than 20 miles west of our home, and is thus one of our favorite hiking destinations. The 5,500-acre park has an unusual array of rock formations, rare plants, uncommon wildlife, and a feel of wildness that is unique in southeastern New Hampshire. An ancient volcano left behind a circular, low rocky ridge, known as a ring-dike, which forms the Pawtuckaway Mountains. Our visits always take as to Round Pond, past the huge boulder field left behind by glaciers, and on up to the North Peak.
This is a relatively short hike of about 5 miles round trip, yet the trail leads through some rugged terrain. Past Round Pond the trail continues wedged between an active beaver marsh and sheer rock walls that are popular with climbers. Several winters years ago we watched a bobcat hunt for small rodents in the wetland. In summer the rock faces are bustling with climbers. Today the marsh and rock walls were silent.
Much of the snow was gone; mostly ice remained. The trails were frozen or packed hard with a thin veneer of snow. Meltwater flowing over the rock walls on warmer days was frozen in place. The cold blue ice contrasted with the dark rocks and deep shadows below.
As we climbed toward the summit of North Peak, a raven called, alerting its mate to our presence. Their nest site sits precariously on a ledge midway up a sheer rock face. Already they seem to be gathering more sticks for the coming nesting season, still a month away. Bobcats live in these rocks too. We've seen their tracks in years with more plentiful snow, better for seeing the light touch of a bobcat wandering the wilds of Pawtuckaway.
Once we reached the North Peak, we crossed paths with two other solo hikers, one with a friendly, jubilant golden retriever. During the hike up and back to our car we saw no one else, just the wind whistling in our ears.