Autumn road trip: clouds and no crowds

My husband and I drove north for a hastily-planned weekend trip for some hiking and biking, past the peak autumn foliage and the oppressive crowds driving to see it. The cloudy weather got cloudier. Traffic got lighter. When we stopped at a little inn on U.S. 2, we were exactly where we wanted to be.

You can call it “past peak.” I call it just fine.

narrow road in autumn, Weeks State Park New Hampshire, photo by Ellen Kolb
Weeks State Park auto road. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

It was not a weekend for grand vistas or clear night skies. Low clouds were the rule. My favorite lookout spot on the Weeks State Park Auto Road, which usually features a showstopping view of the Presidential Range, featured nothing but a wall of fog.

sunset and fog with fire tower, Prospect Mountain NH, photo by Ellen Kolb
Weeks State Park: sunset and fog on Prospect Mountain.

So instead of looking at things miles away, I spent more time looking at things like the carpet of red maple leaves under my feet. I liked walking for miles in the cool conditions. Segments of the Presidential Rail Trail were ideal.

bicyclist on Presidential Rail Trail, autumn, New Hampshire, photo by Ellen Kolb
Presidential Rail Trail, Gorham NH

The only noisy mile of trail was one I shared with ATVs in Gorham when I wanted to get a look at the Androscoggin River from a trail bridge. Once I’d done that, I scooted back west to where the trail was closed to motorized traffic. Once I was on that stretch, I saw a grand total of three other people in five miles of walking.

Androscoggin River in Gorham New Hampshire
Androscoggin River, Gorham NH: low in October after a dry summer

At one point during the weekend, the clouds lifted enough to reveal nearby Cherry Mountain, which for once wasn’t just a visual foil to all the other peaks in the area. I was lucky enough to be walking in the Pondicherry area when the sun came out and the view opened up.

Cherry Mountain, Jefferson New Hampshire. Photo by Ellen Kolb
Cherry Mountain, Jefferson NH

Note: there’s been extensive work recently on the Presidential trail in the Pondicherry area. The unpaved surface there is in the best shape it can be.

Cool and Shady

Another northern foray, another walk on the Cohos Trail’s Falls in the River segment. No trip to Pittsburg, New Hampshire on a 90-degree day would be complete without this through-the-woods walk to the unnamed flume on the Connecticut River, a half-hour walk south of the Second Connecticut Lake Dam.

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Falls in the River, Pittsburg NH, June. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

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Cracks in the granite give some tiny blossoms a home.

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A peek at Second Connecticut Lake from the parking lot by the dam. 

Notes on this trip: no moose. I figured the hot weather would keep them from being out on the roadside at midday, but I thought for sure I’d see one in the woods. I saw only their prints in the mud.

Bring your bug repellent of choice. It’s mosquito season. Also, it seems to be a fine year for ticks, which is bad news for the moose.

I was determined to get ice cream at Moose Alley Cones, but alas! It’s closed on summer Mondays. The fudge at Treats and Treasures next door was ample compensation. So was T&T’s air conditioning.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

New NH North Country Trail Book

I interrupt this southern New Hampshire trail blog for a brief northern foray. I’m happy to announce the publication of 50 Hikes North of the White Mountains, written by New Hampshire’s own Kim Nilsen. Finally, Coos County is getting its due in print. Hikers & campers will love this, of course. I recommend it to anyone who lives in New Hampshire but hasn’t yet discovered all the beautiful land north of U.S. 2. If you’re already a Coos County fan, you might find some new ideas for your next visit as you browse through this book. Kim’s writing is worth reading in any case.

50 Hikes includes a map with each trail description, along with black-and-white photographs. (I’m flattered that Kim chose one of my own photos to illustrate the Prospect Mountain hike.)
A chart in the opening pages shows at a glance the distance and relative difficulty of the fifty hikes, along with notes about suitability for kids and availability of campsites.

I’ve written in my Cohos Trail journal about Kim’s real masterwork, the Cohos Trail. Kim came up with the idea for the trail extending from Crawford Notch north to Canada, and he wrote the original guide to the trail. Now the Cohos Trail Association (www.cohostrail.org) is going strong maintaining the CT’s 160+ miles. 50 Hikes includes many segments of the CT as dayhikes, and hike #50 is the full Cohos Trail in all its backpacking glory. The rest of Coos County is not neglected, however, with featured hikes for the Randolph area, the Dead Diamond district, Indian Stream, and Mt. Success.

From my own experience, I can give a few recommendations. The Falls in the River trail (#46 in the book) goes south from the Second Connecticut Lake dam on U.S. 3 in northern Pittsburg. It’s a fairly level woods walk that leads to a beautiful flume of the Connecticut River, complete with ledges for a picnic stop. Mount Magalloway (#40) features the northernmost fire tower in New Hampshire, with correspondingly awesome views. The Pondicherry wildlife refuge in Jefferson gets its due in hikes #2 & #3.

Kim is generous with his time for anyone seeking information about New Hampshire’s north country, as I learned as I was preparing for a backpacking trip on the CT a few years ago. All that generosity and love for the land comes through in his new book. Find it at your local bookstore (I picked it up at Toadstool Bookshop in Milford), or online at Countryman Press or amazon.com.