Breaking up the workday


Trail conditions were too good to pass up this week. A bit of planning, and I managed to take a few hours midday during the work week to visit Windblown ski area in New Ipswich. I packed both skis and snowshoes, but I decided when I arrived to stick with the snowshoes.

A little piece of the Wapack Trail passes through the property, and I started there, heading to little Stony Top. That’s one of southern NH’s easiest-to-reach grand views. The packed-powder trail had a fresh dusting from the night before, and I had the trail to myself. This not-for-skiers sign is posted at Stony Top where the Wapack heads south, just before a short-but-steepish (and narrow) stretch.

I veered off the Wapack before it started up Barrett Mountain so I could stay on flatter snowshoe trails. I was the only one on the property in snowshoes, apparently, and the woods were as peaceful as they ever get. A few skiers were on the ski trails, and I was welcome on those as long as I stayed out of the set tracks. About an hour & a half of meandering through the woods on the trails was all I could manage, but it was a great hour & a half.

Windblown welcomes hikers when the ski area is closed, but when there’s snow on the ground, they very sensibly expect me to pay for a trail pass and wear snowshoes instead of barebooting it. I’m glad to oblige.

Go pick some blueberries!


I headed to Temple Mountain on this sunny Sunday to enjoy a couple of hours along the Wapack. I packed a lunch, but I needn’t have bothered: there were enough blueberries on the bushes to feed me & anyone else who might happen along. I stopped to eat at the Berry Pasture, with a fresh breeze in my face and Monadnock dominating the view to the west. Can’t beat that.

Not that I’m encouraging anyone to bail out of work this week, but I highly recommend a berry-picking trip to a hill or mountain near you — and soon.

Recovery!

The ice storm four months ago has become a reference point for all my observations of southern NH trails this spring, and if you wonder why, one look around the Miller State Park parking lot at the base of Pack Monadnock will settle the question.

I can’t begin to speculate on how many people it has taken to return trails around here to usable condition. The auto road, still gated to keep cars out, is clear all the way to the summit. The road sports a new edging of wood chips and sawdust from all the overhangs and broken limbs cleared from ice-damaged trees.

Here’s what the low end of the road looked like last Saturday, at the base of the mountain where hardwoods predominate. The destruction must have been overwhelming to the first people who came by to check it out in December. The cleared road testifies to a lot of effort since then. Even so, I was stunned for a few minutes when I got out of my car and had my first look around.

I got there at of 8:15 in the morning The few other cars in the lot belonged to members of a trail-clearing party of Friends of the Wapack. The group’s web site says that there will be a work party somewhere along the trail every weekend this season, and this must have been Pack Monadnock’s turn. I heard a chainsaw being used in the woods off to my left as I descended from the summit later in the morning.

I decided to walk up the auto road, wondering just how blocked the Wapack and Marion Davis trails must be. I brought my camera in the hope of seeing some wildflowers growing low to the ground, but there has been way too much cleanup activity along the road to allow anything to sprout along the edges. I don’t doubt that there are plenty of flowers farther from the road and along the trails. I did see lots of buds on trees and shrubs, reminders that the forest will recover as it always does after one of Nature’s big events. One tree had lost its two main limbs and looked pretty sorry, but that didn’t stop a bird from working on a good-sized nest in it.

The road’s a mile & a quarter long, I think, and it rises 700 feet. Towards the top, where evergreens take over from the oaks & maples & birches, there is much less tree damage. The evergreens seem to have shrugged off the ice and bounced right back. The last few hundred yards of the road have blue blazes on nearby trees, and that made me wonder if the Marion Davis trail has been re-routed for a distance.

The summit, without the summer crowds, was a fine place to be. The view of Monadnock always pleases me, even on a hazy day. The cool morning was giving way to an 80+ degree afternoon, with a brisk breeze up on the landing of the fire tower. I later perched on a picnic table with my water bottle, looking over towards North Pack in its shades of green & grey. Close up, the woods show damage. From a distance, they look like they’ll be around long after I’m gone, which of course is exactly the case.

On my last visit, in September, NH Audubon had volunteers at its raptor observatory near the summit, identifying birds in the fall migration. I was lucky enough to catch sight of a golden eagle that day, or so I was assured by one of the volunteers. Very different this weekend – not the migration season, and there wasn’t so much as a turkey vulture soaring overhead. I settled for chickadees in the woods.

One Subaru – or more precisely, one Subaru’s driver – drove around the closed gate to the auto road, surprising me on my way up. Aside from that, I had very little company: a half dozen dog walkers, one intrepid bicyclist, a runner (prepping for the race up Pack in late May?). I was therefore unprepared for the sight in the parking lot when I finally got back down a little past 11: more than 40 cars, with more coming in by the minute. That tells me that the Wapack Trail up the mountain is in fine shape, since all the people from those cars had to be somewhere, and they weren’t on the auto road!

Temple’s piece of the Wapack

I’ve dayhiked many times on bits and pieces of the 21-mile long Wapack Trail between Ashburnham MA and Greenfield NH, but for some reason I never had time until recently to check out the segment on the northern side of Temple Mountain. I always drove past the old ski area’s parking lot on 101 as I was on my way somewhere else. The ski area went out of business a few years ago, and there’s actually serious talk about making the property into a new state park, which would be great for — among other things — the Wapack. I finally made time to check the area out last weekend.

I didn’t expect that finding the proper trailhead would take awhile, but it did. This is hardly a remote area, with route 101 right there and Miller State Park/Pack Monadnock across the street. I figured I’d park in the old ski area’s lot and I’d immediately find the familiar yellow-triangle blazes for the trail. I saw a bunch of old ski trails, but no blazes. Other cars were there, so I knew someone had to be on the trail. I tried going up one of the old ski trails, but the recent rains had left them badly eroded and muddy. I don’t mind mud, but I was getting annoyed with myself for being unable to find a simple trail! I soon met up with a gentleman in the same predicament as I. He recommended walking out to 101 and picking up the trail right across the road from the Miller State Park entrance. That worked. A couple of hours later, on my way back to my car, I figured out the very simple (but unmarked) way to get from the parking lot to the trail without resorting to walking on the highway: from the parking lot for the old ski area, on the south side of 101,walk just past the gate (actually a cable strung between a post & a tree), turn right, and walk on the broad dirt road for less than five minutes. Those nice yellow blazes will soon be in sight.

The walk south to Temple Ledges was pleasant enough. There are few vistas on this stretch, so all the folks wanting to see the countryside ought to go to just about any other peak on the northern part of the Wapack except this one. Lots of birds — including what I think was a bobwhite, which I had seen before only in books! A bird’s a little thing, but I was delighted anyway. I encountered about ten other folks enjoying the day, all (even their dogs) sensibly dressed with something orange in this hunting season. Woods, stone walls, a group of cairns that could pass for a living room grouping, plenty of birdsong: not a bad way to spend two hours. This is not the place to wear sneakers, by the way. The approach to the ledges isn’t all that steep, but within a few days of any kind of rain, there is mud. You’ll get fair warning of that as you splash your way through the parking lot.