Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year's in the Mountains

We celebrated New Year's at our friend's cabin off Bear Notch Road, spending three and half days there. Rustic living starts to grow on you, especially when you can rise at dawn, stoke the wood stove, pump some water, read a bit, and still start a winter hike by 8:30 in the morning. With no cell phone coverage and no electricity it was easy to forget about everything beyond our viewshed.

On New Year's Day we hiked up South Moat just west of Conway, a 5.8 mile round trip. We knew it was going to be above normal temperatures, but we were still way over-dressed. The foot or so of snow that fell a week ago was mostly gone in the low elevations and all but melted up higher. We encountered lots of bare ground and ice. Microspikes helped us cross numerous ice flows; even there we could see and hear meltwater flowing beneath the ice. The photos don't convey the temperature for the day. It got warmer and warmer as we climbed, maybe reaching 50 degrees.

South Moat Trail at mid-morning

Me, showing a bear-clawed beech tree along the South Moat Trail;
much less snow in this photo just 3-4 hours later on our descent
(photo by Dale Wisler)

Several other pairs and solo hikers were out, including some with dogs. Kodi had a playmate for a few minutes while we stopped to chat with a couple heading up. Kodi skated easily across the ice flows, although even he had to stop his slide a couple times. The views from the top of 2,749' South Moat are spectacular, although not quite so on this overcast day. The upper portion of the trail passes through a beautiful red pine forest before emerging onto large expanses of bare rock.

Standing on one of the larger ice flows on the way to the South Moat summit
(photo by Dale Wisler)

Descending the South Moat Trail across ice and bare rock

Despite a not-so-promising weather forecast on Sunday, a friend organized a hike for a group of eight including me and Srini and our friend and cabin companion Dale. The original plan was to hike Mt. Moosilauke. That was scuttled because of the weather and the conditions and some in the group had a few aches and pains. So we agreed on Hedgehog Mountain - a lovely small mountain (2,542') and trail loop (4.8 miles) that Srini and I had hiked once before last February. This was an especially good choice by the group leader since the cabin we stay in is only 10 minutes away from the trailhead.

As we drove to the parking area it started to drizzle. The local radio station 93.5 WMWV out of Conway called it a "25 cent day." This dampened our spirits some, but the rain stopped for good before we started the hike. One member forgot his boots so Srini drove back to the cabin to get his spare pair. Otherwise, we were all prepared for the weather, good or bad. And it turned into at least a 75 cent day in our opinion as the weather steadily improved, the temperature was fine, and by the time we started to descend the sun was peaking out.

What snow was left on the trail was well-packed so we started out without snowshoes (not needed the entire weekend due to lack of snow) and strapped on microspikes on the ascent when we encountered more ice than bare ground or rock on the trail. A fresh moose track held our interest in the lower section of trail; we looked about hopefully, but the woods were quiet. The trail paces through a nice spruce forest before emerging onto east-facing exposed granite ledges with a commanding view of the nearby 4,060' Mt. Passaconaway. The ledges all the way to the summit were mostly bare with a thin layer of ice here and there. We scrambled up the rocks in our microspikes.

Scrambling up ice-covered ledges on Hedgehog Mountain
(photo by Dale Wisler)

Our cabin stay extended into Monday so we had time for one more morning hike. This day the weather was more normal -- 20 degrees at daybreak and windy, but sunny. From the cabin we walked about a half mile up Bear Notch Road to the Rob Brook Road and Trail. Our goal was to hike a loop -- out the trail and back on the road (closed to vehicle traffic and not plowed). The trail was well-packed and snowless in places. We crossed many deer tracks and a moose track. The Rob Brook Trail meanders along and across Rob Brook numerous times. Beavers are active in this drainage and the trail is almost impassible in places due to high water. We were feeling optimistic after we made it across the brook in several places, but then we reached a broad stretch of river and beaver flooded wetland that forced us to turn back and retrace our steps. A loop is not possible here.

 Moose track on the Rob Brook Trail

One stretch of the Rob Brook Trail follows an old railroad bed and is nearly overgrown with fir, spruce, and pine saplings. Here the trail is barely a shoulder width wide. On our way home that afternoon we stopped at The Mountain Wanderer Map and Book Store in Lincoln. The owner Steve Smith was in. We spent a bit of time with him since he has hiked every bit of trail in the White Mountains. He mentioned that the Forest Service may discontinue this section of the Rob Brook Trail because of the beaver activity flooding the trail. Glad we got out there before it is closed; also nice to know that some places are left just for the beaver.

Our friend Dale making his way on the Rob Brook Trail

Beaver footprints on the Rob Brook Trail


  1. The cabin sounds like a wonderfull retreat from modern life! Great pics and nice blog, will visit again thanks.

  2. Thanks for the note Juliette. Yes, the cabin is nice time away from the quick pace of daily life.