When is it NOT “take a hike” day?

How did I not know this? Once again, Twitter expands my horizons.

National Hiking Day, indeed. Well, every day is a day to hike. I’ve done my best to prove that true.

Now to find a photo to tweet back at the station that posted this. Post one yourself, if you’re so inclined. Maybe we can give each other ideas for the next destination.

Horse Hill

Among the places to which I’ve returned again and again during this blog’s ten years is Horse Hill Nature Preserve, one of my favorite places in town.

dscf1098When I moved to this area thirty years ago, what is now the preserve was just a big undeveloped area with a sandpit in the middle. There was once talk of building a housing development in there. The development never materialized, and in 2002, the town purchased the property for conservation. As a community, we made a wise decision.

The area needed a lot of cleanup before it was ready for prime time, and we resorted to some creative maneuvers to get the job done. I remember going there with my son’s Scout troop on a hike. In the sandpit area was debris from the area’s days as an informal target range. Each Scout gleefully stuffed his pockets full of shell casings and carried them out. I can only imagine how many forgotten little brass pieces found their way into washing machines that weekend.


My favorite season at Horse Hill.

Now, Horse Hill is a year-round spot for walkers, runners, and off-road bicyclists. Horseback riding is allowed, too, for equestrians who don’t mind taking their chances sharing a trail with bikes. As for being a nature preserve, Horse Hill’s wetlands and trees provide habitat for a variety of wildlife.

Horse Hill is popular enough that the town just tripled the size of the parking area, yet it never seems crowded once I’m more than five minutes from my car. Plenty of trails branch off from the main loop, so hikers aren’t concentrated in one area.

If you go, download a map first, and then have fun.


Good snowshoeing here in winter.



Horse Hill Nature Preserve

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.

You can read here about my 50th-birthday hike on the trail.

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



This weekend, a guided hike

I’m heading to Wilton this weekend to join a group hike through the Forest Society’s Heald Tract, guided by a gentleman from the Harris Center for Conservation Education. Solo hiking is usually my preference. I can learn from naturalists, though, and seeing a trail through someone else’s eyes always reveals something new.

On my first visit to the Heald Tract some years back, as I walked on a trail edging a pond, a pair of Canada geese suddenly began honking nearby. They had been hidden by some reeds near the shore. They swam away toward the center of the pond, honking loudly all the time, yet not taking to flight. It dawned on me that I might have gotten close to their nest and that the birds were trying to distract me from it. I don’t know why they didn’t just chase me. I backed away and took another trail, and soon the geese quieted down.

I saw my first grouse that day, but it saw me first and shot up from the ground as I approached. Startled me senseless for a moment. I recovered my wits in time to admire the bird as it fled.

Several organizations sponsor group hikes or trail work days in southern New Hampshire, as do some local conservation commissions. Watch for event calendars, such as those from the Forest Society, the Harris Center, and Beaver Brook (Hollis).

My favorite bad photo

I’m not much of a photographer. When my daughter gave me a digital camera eight years ago and consigned my little plastic 35mm Polaroid to the junk drawer, I soon discovered my favorite aspect of digital cameras: the delete button. No more paying to develop film with 24 exposures but only one picture worth keeping.

Even the bad pictures can bring back good memories, though. This is one of my favorites, taken at Bald Rock on Mount Monadnock about ten years ago.

Bald Rock, Monadnock State Park, NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Overexposed, lousy lighting, hard to see the intriguing and unexplained inscription on the rock: I didn’t get much right with this shot, except capture a special spot on what is so far the best day I’ve ever spent on Monadnock.

This was the day I realized that I could go to the mountain and not feel like a failure for skipping the summit. I sat by this rock and ate my lunch in regal solitude. I felt absolutely no need to join the crowd I saw on the peak above me. With a breeze and a view and a PB&J, I had everything I needed.

Trips to Monadnock don’t always work out that way for me. Last time I went, I kept moving up the Pumpelly trail despite a sore knee. The pain finally got so bad I had to turn around, hobbling slowly downhill, not getting to my car until well after sundown. On another day, a beautiful December afternoon, I dawdled on the summit and figured I’d make up some time on the descent. Bad move. I lost my footing, fell down hard, and slid on my back headfirst, certain that I was going to crack my skull on a rock. Instead, my backpack took the hit, which was more luck than I deserved. (Learn from my mistakes, folks.)

I’ve had good days to offset those misadventures. The day at Bald Rock beats them all.



Finding Fire Towers

About ten years ago while poking through the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford, I came across A Field Guide to New Hampshire Firetowers, a labor-of-love booklet by Iris W. Baird and Chris Haartz. It was a gem of local history, and I used to take it with  me whenever I headed out for a tower hike. I just learned that Baird passed away earlier this year (RIP). A fire tower aficionado has used her work as a resource for a web page dedicated to people who have reached every New Hampshire fire tower and former fire tower site – more than ninety locations!

I’m not in that league.I was pleased just to get the Tower Quest patch from the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands a few years ago for visiting only five towers. I think I’m due for more hikes.

A newer resource that I’ve discovered is a must for all tower hunters: the NH Fire Towers Facebook group.


The view from Pack Monadnock’s tower (Miller State Park) in the fall.


View from the tower site on Mt. Kearsarge, Warner NH.

6. Fire Tower

The Pitcher Mountain tower, Stoddard, NH, is a short and fairly easy hike from the parking area on NH Route 123.


From the decommissioned tower at Stratham Park, looking towards Portsmouth and the NH coast.


Loveliest fire tower to be found anywhere, in my opinion. Weeks State Park, Lancaster NH.


An auto road reaches the tower site at Miller State Park (Pack Monadnock).


This tower at Pawtuckaway State Park is being re-built in 2016.


Northernmost active tower in New Hampshire, on Mt. Magalloway. The view on a clear day extends to Maine, Vermont, and Quebec as well as New Hampshire.