Checking in on NH State Parks

Earlier this year, as more people were drawn to outdoor recreation during the COVID pandemic, the most popular New Hampshire State Parks instituted a parking-pass reservation system to prevent overcrowding. Grating though I found the idea at first, I found on a trip to Pawtuckaway that the system seemed to be working. So how’s the reservation system now, more than half a year later?

At this point, only three parks still require advance reservations at least through November 22: Miller (Pack Monadnock), Monadnock, and Pawtuckaway. That leaves dozens of other state parks where there’s no need to reserve a spot in advance.

Wapack Trail sign, mountain, New Hampshire
View of Mt. Monadnock from Pack Monadnock in Miller State Park. Ellen Kolb photo.

Times being what they are, you might want to pack a mask or wear a neck buff that can be pulled up when needed. Governor Sununu has issued a mask order effective November 20 that includes outdoor masking if 6-foot distancing between people can’t be maintained. Somehow I doubt that enforcement on trails will be a priority, but please don’t take that as authoritative guidance.

Whatever park you choose, may you find respite and refreshment there.

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.



Plan a First Day Hike for January 1

Which will it be on New Year’s Day for me? A trip to Monadnock, where I went last January 1? Maybe it’ll be a good day to check out the Little Harbor Loop in Portsmouth instead. Or perhaps, if everything falls just right, I’ll somehow be able to head north to Weeks State Park in Lancaster for a view of the Presidentials. Those are the three sites for the guided First Day Hikes 2015 being sponsored by New Hampshire State Parks and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests  All hikes are easy to moderate, and there’s no charge. Details are on the web site.

The Granite State Walker kicking off the New Year at Monadnock State Park.

The Granite State Walker kicking off the New Year at Monadnock State Park.

You can hike on your own anywhere you’d like on January 1, of course. I usually start the new year with a walk on Temple’s quiet roads, and if the weather’s right I follow that with a walk up the auto road in Miller State Park on nearby Pack Monadnock. Last year, for a change, I headed to Monadnock for the guided First Day Hike. Two hikes were offered that day: one for people who didn’t mind heading uphill in icy conditions, and one for the rest of us content to explore the lower slopes. Just fine, either way. (By the way, if you hike with your dog, Weeks State Park has the First Day Hike for you. Alas, no pets allowed on Monadnock,)

If you head to Weeks in Lancaster, don’t worry if you don’t make it to the summit. There are two lookouts partway up the auto road (pedestrians only, in the winter) that are worth a stop. Nothing like a crisp, cold day for fine views.

from summit of Mt. Prospect, Lancaster NH, 4/6/13

from summit of Mt. Prospect, Lancaster NH (Weeks State Park)

Hobbling ’round Monadnock

A bad day on Mount Monadnock is better than a good day on … oh, forget it. Sometimes a bad day is just a bad day, whatever the setting. At least I picked a scenic spot to tweak my knee.

As high as I got this day!

As high as I got this day!

A few weeks back on this blog, I vented about people who did silly things and got themselves into trouble on a trail. I added that if I ever found myself in the same position, I’d ‘fess up.  Here I am, as promised – and that didn’t take very long, did it?!  I made two mistakes yesterday: I started up the Pumpelly trail much too late in the day, and I didn’t take the first bail-out point after the first time my knee buckled. 

Looking down on Dublin Pond

Looking down on Dublin Pond

Serves me right for deciding on the spur of the moment to take a long hike; even twelve hours’ advance planning would have given me a chance to arrange to hike with a friend. It turned out to be a very long day. No long-term harm done, fortunately. It’s not the first time I’ve strained a knee; nothing’s torn or broken. My trusty and cheap little trekking pole was my best friend as I slowly and painfully made my way downhill at a one-mile-an-hour pace. I considered it imperative to be off the mountain before sundown via the quickest route possible, even though I had a flashlight. I then had a few miles of paved and manageable road walking until I got back to my car at 8:30 p.m.

Phoning for help, by the way, is not an option on the east side of the mountain or anyplace below tree line. I knew that and did not expect to use my cell phone for a distress call. This was particularly frustrating to me as I have two acquaintances living just east of the park, and a ride from them could have saved me that road walk. Oh, well – I wanted a hike, and I sure got one. Learn from my experience. Don’t ignore “tweaked” joints when hiking uphill. I should have turned around earlier. I had lots of time during my walk back to my car to contemplate my poor judgment.

Pumpelly Trail: first, the woods walk

Pumpelly Trail: first, the woods walk.

...then the ledgy part ...

On the way up.

... and then the views. Crotched Mountain on the horizon.

Crotched Mountain on the horizon.

Any other day, I would have loved the three trails on which I spent the most time: Pumpelly, Red Spot, and Birchtoft. Even on this high-traffic summer weekend, they’re quiet and uncrowded. I got a close enough look at the summit to see way too many people up there, and I’m not sorry I   didn’t get all the way up to join the crowd.

Mount Monadnock's summit, lined with hikers

Mount Monadnock’s summit, lined with hikers

Wapack Range. L-R: North Pack Monadnock, Pack Monadnock, Temple Mountain Ridge, Kidder.
Wapack Range. L-R: North Pack Monadnock, Pack Monadnock, Temple Mountain Ridge, Kidder. Large pond is Thorndike; small pond in foreground is Gilson.


Monadnock panorama, from the junction of Red Spot and Pumpelly trails.

Monadnock panorama, from the junction of Red Spot and Pumpelly trails.