I hope you’ll check out this link to an item I wrote for The New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition. Readers of this blog know how often I return to the Nashua River Rail Trail. It’s familiar yet always fresh.
Job responsibilities prevented a backpacking trip for me this season. I settled for four days of dayhikes in Pittsburg, way north in Coos County, New Hampshire. (CO-ahhs, if you please, in case you’re new here. Welcome.) I love the place.
Conditions: upper 80s, high humidity, overcast, with a low cloud ceiling that cut off views of nearly every peak in the area. On the other hand, I was there on quiet weekdays, and I had the solitude I craved on every road and trail.
Cohos Trail Segments
Covell Mountain really does not want to yield a trail this summer. There were signs of storm damage and logging. The mud made me glad I had shoes with a moisture-resistant lining. Grasses were growing high despite obvious efforts by trail adopters to keep them in check. Blazes were clear and plentiful, though, and I know I can thank those same trail volunteers for that.
There was a newly-fallen spruce across the trail, not far from a junction with a path marked Cattail Trail. The spruce refused to give way to the little knife I carried. All I got for my pains was a sappy blade. (If you need wires stripped, though, I’m down for that.)
Perhaps on a clearer and cooler day, I’d have kept going past Covell to Prospect Mountain, where on another trip I enjoyed a spectacular vista. This was not a week for great views, I thought, so I contented myself with an up-and-back hike on Covell.
As I returned to my car parked at the Ramblewood campground, I caught sight of Mt. Magalloway and a sliver of First Connecticut Lake. The summit was obscured by cloud and the lake reflected the gray sky: a striking monochrome landscape offered up by Covell Mountain, as if to thank me for putting up with its messy trail.
Second Connecticut Lake is the most peaceful place in the world to me. It never disappoints, however short the visit. This time, I parked at the dam alongside U.S. 3 and followed the Cohos Trail north.
The trail soon intersected Idlewilde Road, and I turned for the five-minute detour to the Idlewilde boat ramp. On a hazy late-summer afternoon, I stood at the ramp on the lake’s shore all by myself, with a loon’s call the only sound I could hear.
Back on the trail, I took up the Chaput segment. It’s named for a couple I’ve never met who are famous to Cohos Trail veterans for their years of trail work. The segment is parallel to and very close to U.S. 3, but it gets hikers off the pavement. I’m a fan. I hiked the northern section of the Cohos Trail in 2009, and at that time the last ten miles of trail to the Canadian border were on the highway. Thanks to the efforts of many volunteers, that’s no longer the case.
Along the Chaput segment, I found the little rocky overhang nicknamed Lainie’s Lair. That’s a fun tribute to another legendary Cohos Trail volunteer. Lainie brought me with her for a memorable day of trail work during my 2009 hike. I had a lot of enthusiasm for the task but zero skill. Lainie patiently coached me on things like how to use tools without hurting anyone and how not to freak out at the sight of bear scat. She could have accomplished a lot more that day in 2009 without me, but she was happy to be my guide. Nine years later, I smiled at the whimsical salute to her at the “lair.”
Sophie’s Lane is actually part of snowmobile corridor #5, and the Cohos Trail follows it beginning just south of Deer Mountain State Park. After being in the woods on a hot day, Sophie’s Lane was a relief. It was wide and open enough to catch a breeze that kept insects at bay. The lane leads to a spur to the site of an old fire tower, which is a side trip I didn’t take.
I liked the short spur to Moose Flowage, which is part of the Connecticut River south of Third Lake. It was a good spot for a break and a snack. It was a tempting place for a campsite as well, but signs sternly warned against any such notion. (The state park campground, accessible from U.S. 3, is just across the Flowage.)
The lane gradually narrowed the further north I walked. I stopped well short of the border, avoiding a walk through a long weedy stretch of trail. I passed a clearing with one boulder covered in street art. That jarred me. That painted rock somehow bothered me more than the relatively new cell tower at the north end of First Lake. It poked a big hole in the sense of isolation I expected in August on a snowmobile trail three miles from Quebec.
What I didn’t see along the way – not on Sophie’s Lane, and not anywhere else – was a moose. No bear or deer, either. I saw moose tracks in one muddy spot, but as for the beasts themselves, nada. Perhaps the heat kept them in hiding. Maybe I’m such a noisy hiker that I scare off everything larger than a mosquito. My presence didn’t bother the birds, though. It was a good week for seeing heron, hawks, and turkeys.
Pittsburg: the Village and Happy Corner
Broadband has come to the ‘burg, or at least parts of it. I stayed in the village – downtown Pittsburg, more or less – in a comfortable little cabin with WiFi and cell service. That sounds like an outrage, but I was able to walk by day and work online in the evenings. The trip wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
The snowmobile crowds are a few months away, people are buttoning up their camps for the season, and the summertime ATV vacationers have mostly returned to work and school. The town roads were thus quiet and inviting during my recent visit. As always in Pittsburg, the people I encountered were friendly and hospitable, ready to answer my questions and point me to interesting places.
A three-mile loop walk from my cabin at day’s end took me to Murphy Dam, Lake Francis, and Cedar Stream Road. A tranquil route, from start to finish. Had I moved east on Cedar Stream Road rather than west towards town, I’d have picked up a Cohos Trail segment leading to the east side of Lake Francis.
Six miles north of the village, the crossroads known as Happy Corner makes a good base for a few Cohos Trail dayhikes and for exploration of town roads. I loved rambling with no schedule and no fixed route.
I only get up this way once a year or so, and I try to make the most of the long drive. I drove a circuitous route on the way north in order to photograph a slew of North Country historical markers. Interesting sites, interesting history!
My drive home was more direct, as I finally had to get back to watching the clock. But who could drive by Weeks State Park in Lancaster without stopping?
I really thought I could nail down that Forest Society patch for visiting 33 Society properties throughout New Hampshire. I’ve fallen short. Dalton and Sandwich did me in, which is to say I haven’t been able to manage a trip to Dana Forest or Eagle Cliff. I’ll settle for earning the patch via tier 2 status, AKA the easy way, which involves concentrating on one specific region and answering a few questions about the properties there. I shall send the Forest Society my entry in a New Year’s Day email.
Don’t think for a minute that my time on the patch project has been wasted. I loved every property I visited. Every mile driven was worth the time and effort. Sometimes, I’d go a few miles off-route on a business day just to find one of the reservations or forests on the project list. (Tip: always keep walking shoes in the car.) One gorgeous fall day, I spent hours on the Route 16 corridor plus-or-minus a few miles, discovering four Forest Society properties including High Watch Reserve. I wanted to stay up there on Green Mountain until the last leaf dropped.
Seeking inspiration for your hikes this coming year? Check out the Forest Society’s list. Make a list of state parks you want to visit. Do a web search of conservation commissions in the towns near you; you’ll find a treasury of local trail maps and descriptions.
Just get out there.
After tripping on a parking-lot pothole and falling hard on my knee last February, I thought I’d lose a year of hikes. February’s a depressing month anyway and such dreary thoughts fit right in.
I was wrong. This has been a wonderful year, and I’m grateful for every mile on every hike. This has not been a year for many hilltops, but after using a cane for awhile during rehab, I developed a new appreciation for New Hampshire’s rail trails.
My resources for medical care were not unlimited (can you say “high deductible”?), so I had to be stingy about medical consultations. The ones I had were worth it. I’m grateful to the orthopedist who quickly ruled out a fracture & then encouraged me to keep my spirits up. I owe a lot to the physical therapist who helped me regain strength and balance. Along with the massage therapist who has worked with me for years and the pros at my local community acupuncture clinic, the doc & the PT got me back on the trails.
Hobbling up Pack Monadnock and partway up Kearsarge and Mt. Prospect left me feeling like I’d conquered the world. The Forest Society Challenge inspired me to find new places for walks, making boredom impossible. I managed about 300 miles of recreational walking and hiking this year, which is about 290 miles more than I thought possible right after my accident.
(Watch out for potholes. Seriously. And don’t run in the dark. Voice of experience here.)
This has been a year filled with blessings. May we all enjoy the same in 2017. See you on the Granite State’s trails.
A few weeks back, I told you about a pair of Granite State walkers who put me to shame with their border-to-border walk through New Hampshire. Wendy, half of the awesome pair, has written up the whole trip in a series of posts on her blog Lessons Learned from the Flock. Quickly now: click away from my site (and I don’t say that often!) and check out Wendy’s account of their journey.
I had the privilege of joining them in Nashua for their last couple of miles, and I got to see them greeting family members awaiting them at the Massachusetts border.
Now that I’ve read the day-by-day account of what it took for Wendy and her son Griffin to get to that state line marker, I’m more pleased for them than ever. They’ve given me some ideas, too.
As I read Wendy’s posts, I saw some things through her eyes that I had never noticed before, even on parts of her route that are familiar to me. I love living in a state that after more than thirty years can still surprise me with the beauty of its land and its people.
Wendy has reminded me to keep walking, keep watching, keep learning – and keep writing.
The folks at New Hampshire State Parks have done their best to get me to break my long tradition of spending New Year’s Day at a 5k race in Temple, which I sometimes followed with a walk up Pack Monadnock. Last New Year’s Days have found me instead at a First Day Hike at Silver Lake State Park, organized by the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation. The program is coming back for another round on January 1, 2017.
Details have been posted on the State Parks web site about First Day Hikes at the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion State Historic Site in Portsmouth, Silver Lake State Park in Hollis, Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey, Weeks State Park in Lancaster, and Wellington State Park in Bristol.
January doesn’t always make for the best daytrip weather, but it sure would be fun to head to Weeks for a walk up that amazing auto road leading to that amazing fire tower…or maybe to discover Wellington, which I’ve never visited…or I could just stay close to home and go to Hollis as I did last January 1. What a wonderful day that was.
Read the descriptions, pick a spot, and put it on your calendar. I’ll have to give it some thought. My customary 5k in Temple is always fun, but these options are mighty tempting. Come to think of it, Temple is on the way to Monadnock. Hmmm…