Wednesday, February 15, 2012

North Kearsarge

At 6 am Sunday morning the thermometer read 2 degrees F and I could see the prayer flags blowing on the three season porch. It was cold outside the cabin, but inside we were cozy warm inside our sleeping bags lying not far from the wood stove. The temperature was going to be slow to rise that day so we lingered in bed, until it was time to make coffee, stoke the wood stoves, and ready our gear for the day's hike.

Sunday was day two of our three days in the mountains with my nephew. Our destination was North Kearsarge in North Conway, a not-so-high mountain at 3,268 feet, with a relatively easy 3.1 mile trail to the summit. We had never climbed this mountain before, but it is a popular trail so we thought it a good choice on a cold, windy day. 
There was more snow in the woods than I expected, given how little is left in southeastern New Hampshire. The snow up north though has a thick crust, so walking off trail is tricky--you either crash through the crust or skate on top, so we stuck to the trail.

The trail to North Kearsarge was heavily used and hard-packed. Less than an inch of new snow had fallen in the last day so there was a dusting on top of the icy trail. With microspikes we were able to easily climb and then descend without any trouble.

We were prepared for the cold temperatures (about 8 degrees when we set out) and the high wind. However, the sky was mostly clear and the south-facing trail to the summit offered plenty of sunshine to warm our bodies as we hiked. 

The trail passes through a hardwood forest with many paper and yellow birches, then begins to climb along a ridge of mostly tall hemlock trees.


Pine siskins kept us company all weekend. We heard their wheezy twitters coming from the tops of hemlocks and spruces. The siskins were busy working the softwoods on the slopes of North Kearsarge. In the cool shade of the hemlocks ice flows bulged and formed sharp, menacing icicles among the rock outcrops.

As we climbed higher the blue sky grew more intense and we crossed paths with many animals tracks including red squirrels, a large male fisher, several snowshoe hares, and a ruffed grouse.

The track of a large male fisher.
Snowshoe hare tracks were plentiful up high
It was a gorgeous blue sky day with great cloud formations

Just below the summit we paused in the spruce forest to don our winter parka, balaclava, and goggles. From there we emerged into the bright sun and strong winds. The abandoned fire tower still stands and was a handy rest area on such a cold, windy day. The wood steps and interior floor are heavily pockmarked from the many microspike-wearing hikers that visit in winter.


Kodi very much wanted to follow Srini up the fire tower steps to explore, although he didn't mind hanging around in the wind and the cold. Still, he was quite happy to see Srini come back down.

Alas, the clouds had moved into the High Presidentials by the time we climbed to the top of North Kearsarge. Views were not terrific to the west and north, but we still had clear skies around us. We did not linger long outside the tower. So, soon we retraced our steps, invigorated by the wind and the sun and the great day of hiking.
After finishing the 4-hour hike to North Kearsarge we drove north to Pinkham Notch. The high peaks were socked in, but the usual hustle and bustle of hikers and climbers and skiers was evident. The weather forecast for the day atop Mt. Washington predicted the coldest day of the year with hurricane force winds. We were sipping warm cups of coffee in the AMC dining hall as we read the forecast, glad that we had chosen a small peak for the day's hike.

On Monday morning we finished out the weekend of hiking with a short jaunt down the Rob Brook Trail off Bear Notch Road. Also called the Nanamocomuck Trail, it meanders down to a wetland with fine views of Mt Carrigain to the northwest and Mt. Chocorua to the southeast, although not so good that morning. As I observed elsewhere during the weekend, the trees were heavy with cones and seeds along this trail too. Here is a red squirrel dining table with spent spruce cones scattered beneath the tree and on the trail.
And overhead beech trees were still holding the open husks that once held the three-angled beechnuts.
The Nanamocomuck Trail was a fine ending to three days of winter hiking, which is quite addictive by the way.

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