Coos’s “Continental Silence”

I’m a southern New Hampshire hiker, but I head upstate now and then. Another Cohos Trail trip is on my dream list, if I can somehow carve out a week or ten days from my schedule next year. Until then,  I can turn to the fine guidebook for the trail, because it’s fun to read and it has good information as well. It’s one of my favorite trail guides. The book’s credited author is “The Cohos Trail Association,” but the man who did the writing is the trail’s founder, Kim Nilsen.

Here’s one paragraph that always brings me back to my 2009 hike on the northern third of the trail. Makes me want to head back sooner rather than later.

Continental Silence (by Kim Nilsen, from The Cohos Trail guidebook, 3rd ed.)

Coos County still harbors the sound of blood in your temples, rushing wind in close-packed red spruce needles, the burbling of countless rivulets of water, and the maniacal laugh of the loon. I’ve seen snowmobilers turn off their engines on a bald wintry summit and sit and listen to the grand silence. It is the sound of the great continent before the year 1600. The all-silence has been killed off like the eastern mountain lion, and now it reigns in only a tiny fraction of its former range.

The Cohos Trail runs through the very heart of Coos County, right along its central spine. Nowhere on the trail do folks set foot in a town of more than a few hundred people, even though the trail is over 160 miles long.Because of this, the trail ought to attract to Coos County the sort of people who will give a damn about just how special a place this great northern forested county really is.

If you know how to get by in remote country when it’s too dark to walk outside, and there isn’t a McDonald’s for 60 miles, then welcome. If you carry your trash out with you and know how to dig a pit toilet, then welcome. If you can eat well without a fire, then welcome. If you can stay dry an warm in a raging sleet storm at 4,000 feet, then welcome. If you don’t have the urge to vandalize logging equipment or smash a window of a car at a trailhead, then welcome.

You’ve come to the right place. Leave your business suit in the dooryard (northern New Hampshire talk for “front yard”), and come along to experience some of the finest wilderness you’ll ever want to see in the Eastern United States!

Many New Hampshire booksellers carry the guidebook or can order it for you, or you can order it from the Cohos Trail Association web site.

featured photo: Deer Mountain state park, northernmost camping area on the Cohos Trail. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Landscape: summer memory

Today’s Photo 101 assignment finds me reaching back into my archives. I found nothing around me yesterday or in my archives to meet the “swarm” prompt. Today’s “landscape” prompt is another story.

This is upstate New Hampshire – close to home and well-loved. I’ve been to Yosemite and many other beautiful places where I took landscape images. This one, though, speaks of home. Great luck, too, to have a clear summer day for this photo. Twenty-four hours later, the area sweltered under heavy humid haze.


First Connecticut Lake and Mt. Magalloway, seen from Prospect Mountain

All to myself

Once upon a time, my first stop on a multi-day hike was at the shore of Clarksville Pond. I had a “reservation” for a spot to pitch my tent, meaning I had phoned the landowner and asked permission to stay on her property. She insisted that I take one of her cabins instead – “the weather can be nasty.” When I saw the shoreline spot she had set aside for me, it was like I’d won the lottery. I never got to thank her in person; all our dealings were by phone. Solitude at its finest: just me and a loon and the sound of a little boat bumping gently against the dock as the wind picked up. No lullaby needed.


Pondicherry is for the birds (and beavers and hikers)

A friend and I have been trying for several weekends to arrange a hike, with last-minute work commitments sabotaging every trip so far. Still, we keep planning. When I suggested Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, she said “where’s that?” I was going to refer her to a blog post here, when I discovered to my embarrassment that I hadn’t yet written about this lovely place, despite my fondness for it. Oops. Making up for lost time here.

This is another northern trip, from my base in southern New Hampshire. The refuge straddles the towns of Jefferson and Whitefield. I usually see it in April, after I attend a certain annual event in nearby Bethlehem. I can’t drive that far without adding an extra hike to the agenda. In good years, I can fit in a summer trip as well. I take U.S. 3 (what else?) through Franconia Notch and Twin Mountain, and look for the airport sign in Whitefield pointing me to a right turn. A drive around the south side of the one-runway airport brings me to a little biomass power plant, across from which is a well-marked parking area for Pondicherry.

Mount Martha, with Presidential range at left. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

Cherry Pond, with Presidential range at left and Mount Martha at right. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

trailhead, Airport Road

trailhead, Airport Road

From the parking area, one could be forgiven for thinking “is that all there is?” The Presidential Rail Trail extends north from there, looking like a long dirt boulevard. (In fact, it’s a busy snowmobile thoroughfare in the winter.) Cherry Pond is a mile and a half away via the trail. During my April visits, little spring flowers are usually peeking up on the sunny side of the trail when there’s still ice along the shaded side. I seldom have company here, and there is little noise except for the occasional small plane landing at the airport.

Presidential Rail Trail, leading to Cherry Pond

Presidential Rail Trail, leading to Cherry Pond





The walk into the refuge is tree-lined, as you can see from the accompanying photo. This makes the sudden view of the Presidentials all the more startling when I arrive at Cherry Pond. I never get tired of that view.

Nearby are Little Cherry Pond and the adjacent wetlands. The Cohos Trail passes through, piggybacking on the Presidential Rail Trail for some distance. There’s an observation platform, affording excellent views for the birdwatcher who remembered to bring her binoculars (which I ALWAYS forget). A rail line runs through the property as well. Signs sternly warn that the rail line is “active,” but that means “two trains a week” or thereabouts. I sometimes see a few freight cars parked on a nearby siding; this quiet location still bears the old name of Waumbek Junction.

Beavers have waged undeclared war on hikers for years by causing flooding of a trail on the east side of Cherry Pond. Hikers currently have the upper hand with the recent rehabilitation of the Slide Brook Trail. The beavers don’t affect the southern access that I’ve described above. Critters of all sizes find Pondicherry a congenial place. I’ve seen moose tracks, but no moose.

Pliny Range, north of Cherry Pond

Pliny Range, north of Cherry Pond


Mt. Washington from Cherry Pond

Mt. Washington from Cherry Pond

On the boardwalk to Little Cherry Pond

On the boardwalk to Little Cherry Pond

Click on this link to read what the state of New Hampshire has to say about the refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has information as well, though a link is unavailable at this time. The Pondicherry refuge is a cooperative venture of state, federal, and private organizations.

The best guide to the Pondicherry trails can be found in the Jefferson Dome chapter of Kim Nilsen’s 50 Hikes North of the White Mountains, about which I’ve raved before.



Rail line near Waumbek Junction

Rail line near Waumbek Junction; trail goes alongside it & should be traveled with caution.

Mount Martha, with its pointed Owl's Peak to the left of the rounded summit

Mount Martha, with its pointed Owl’s Peak to the left of the rounded summit. There’s a trail over there for me to explore on another day.

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My limited wisdom from my first backpacking trip

I just had a freelance piece picked up by Yahoo: “Eight things I learned as a first-time backpacker.”  I’d be interested in comments from those of you with more experience who can add your two cents’ worth.

What a weekend here in New Hampshire! Humid, of course, but that’s July for ya. No rain today where I live. I checked out a place today that a reader recommended, and it was a treat. Photos & post to come in a couple of days.

Cohos Trail founder coming to Weeks State Park this week

Kim Nilsen (photo by Ellen Kolb)

Kim Nilsen (photo by Ellen Kolb)

If you’re anywhere near Lancaster, New Hampshire, you might want to consider a drive up the auto road of Weeks State Park this Thursday evening, July 11. As part of the Weeks State Park Association’s summer programs, Kim Nilsen will give a talk on “Hikes North of the White Mountains.” The free program begins at 7 p.m. at the Summit Lodge.

Kim came up with the idea for New Hampshire’s Cohos Trail over thirty years ago. It exists now thanks to care and interest from many people, but it all began with Kim’s imagination and tenacity. He knows New Hampshire’s North Country, and he’s always looking for ways to share his enthusiasm. He recently wrote 50 Hikes North of the White Mountains, part of Countryman Press’s successful 50 Hikes series.

While I’m based in southern New Hampshire, readers of Granite State Walker blog know I love my forays into the North Country. Kim’s the best living resource I know for information about the area’s trails.

There’s a link on the Weeks State Park site to a PDF with the entire schedule for the summer series of programs. There’s a fine variety of speakers and topics, all related to New Hampshire’s natural history or outdoor recreation. I wish I lived closer so I could sit in on Thursday evenings!

Here’s a press release about this week’s program, taken from the Friends of the Cohos Trail Facebook page:

Kim Nilsen will present a slide talk at Weeks State Park on “Hikes North of the White Mountains” on Thursday, July 11, at 7 p.m. The Great North Woods north of the White Mountains offers more than 200 miles of underutilized hiking trails winding through breath-taking terrain. This slide talk describes these trails through this largely undiscovered, pristine region. Nilsen has authored books on this subject and will have his books available for sale and signing. Kim lived in Coos County while employed by the Coos County Democrat. He has bushwhacked most of the county’s mountainous backcountry and has now realized a dream that a through trail, The Cohos Trail, could be built that highlights features away from the White Mountain ranges. Kim today lives in Spofford,where he works with severely handicapped young people. He writes essays, articles and books.
This free program will be in the Great Room of the Summit Lodge of Weeks State Park. Come early and bring a picnic supper or climb the fire tower for one of the best views north of the notches. Weeks State Park is on the east side of Route 3, approximately two miles south of Lancaster. The Evening Program Series is sponsored by the Weeks State Park Association, N.H. Division of Parks, and UNH Cooperative Extension. All programs are free and the public is invited.