I had a big smile on my face over breakfast today, reading this story from the New Hampshire Union Leader. This front-page feature fills in the story of a man I’ve encountered many times on the Piscataquog trail in Manchester. He’s a quiet, diligent trail adopter who didn’t wait to be asked before he started taking care of things.
Five hundred miles. The app on my phone assures me that’s how far I’ve walked and hiked this year. Not far by comparison with many (most?) other hikers, I know. Still, I covered some fine southern New Hampshire places. Thirty-three towns, according to my trail notes, plus a probably-once-in-a-lifetime visit to a place way beyond the border. Not a bad year at all.
Nashua’s Mine Falls might be my favorite city park, but Concord’s Winant Park was a contender this year. I frequently have business in Concord, with Winant only a short drive away. All by itself it justified keeping a pair of trail shoes in the car for spur-of-the-moment hikes.
I visited Miller State Park one late-spring day just before sunset, and had the usually-busy Pack Monadnock summit and fire tower to myself. In thirty years of hikes there, I’d never been on the summit at dusk.
Of all the trails new to me this year, the ones in Moose Mountain reservation are the ones most likely to draw me back. I enjoyed an early-fall lunch on Phebe’s Nable. And then there’s Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch: one of the most heavily-trafficked trails in the Whites, but new and delightful to me. What a view!
Each year brings surprises. This year’s was a trip to Italy. I packed walking shoes, of course, and with my husband explored Rome on foot. Despite the exhausting summer heat, I was exhilarated. I’m more at home on trails, but what’s not to love about being a Granite State Walker on vacation?
And next year, who knows? Maybe 500 miles, maybe far more. I’m thinking local: redline nearby spots like Horse Hill, Beaver Brook, and the Uncanoonuc trails. See them afresh. Walk on more rail trails, or rather more miles on the trails already familiar to me. Take better photos. Make a point of hiking with the friends who have offered to share their own favorite trails with me.
I’ll turn 60 in the coming year. Perhaps a landmark hike is in order.
I hope you can look back with satisfaction on your own hikes from the past year. Even more, I hope you’re looking forward to next year’s adventures. See you out there.
Blue sky, thirty-odd degrees, visibility unlimited: October at its best. This was a month of short hikes in a pleasing variety of places. Some of them have been guided hikes as part of the Forest Society’s Five Hikes in Five Weeks series.
Goffstown Rail Trail
The Friends of the Goffstown Rail Trail have just unveiled a short but welcome upgrade to the sandy stretch of trail running behind the county government complex on Route 114. The new hardpack surface is much friendlier to bicyclists.
The trail is covered with leaves, which is no surprise in October. What did surprise me was the absence of fallen twigs and branches after several windy days.
This was a between-appointments visit to the trail. I wish I’d had the time to walk clear out to the Piscataquog river bridge and back.
Muster Field Farm
Muster Field Farm is up Sutton way, just south of I-89. It’s a working farm as well as a historical homestead. It’s on a quiet road that’s fine for walking, with other paths and roads nearby to create loop routes of varying lengths. There’s a farm stand on the property, and I was lucky enough to be there on a day when $5 got me a big bunch of colorful cut zinnias.
My previous visits to the trails in Monson Center near the Milford/Hollis line were in the summertime, with irises blooming and mosquitos biting. October brings a different atmosphere, bracing and clear.
Monson was an 18th-century town that lasted less than 40 years before its inhabitants petitioned the state to formally rescind the town’s charter and divide the land among surrounding towns. Today, the land is a Forest Society property. Located only a few miles from busy Rt. 101-A, the parking area on Federal Hill Road is easy to miss. I’ve overshot it myself. It’s worth finding, though, for its historical interest as well as its trails.
Moose Mountains Reservation
This was a bit of a drive for me, taking me up to Middleton, but it suited me fine during foliage season. My hike in Moose Mountains Reservation took me to Phoebe’s Nable. That’s right, Nable. I wondered if that was a corruption of “nubble,” but my companions didn’t think so. None of us knows how the feature got its name. No matter – the views from there were fine, and it was possibly the month’s best lunch spot.
The reservation has other trails I had no time to explore. This would make a fine destination for a half-day of wandering through hills, fields, and forest.
I’m on a business trip in a faraway city right now, when I’d rather be in Stewartstown, New Hampshire. There’s a celebration going on there in honor of a place and people who have come to mean a lot to me. The Cohos Trail is turning 20, and the coming-of-age party is happening today.
In twenty years, I’ve spent maybe eight hours on trail maintenance up there in northern New Hampshire. That’s not even a blip in the tally of volunteer hours and days and weeks given by countless people over the past two decades to build and maintain the CT. If I were at today’s party, I’d be able to meet some of them and offer face-to-face thanks. As it is, this meager post will have to do.
Two people are responsible for drawing my attention to the Cohos Trail: John Harrigan and Kim Nilsen. Harrigan’s old columns in the New Hampshire Sunday News described an intriguing region full of an unfamiliar above-the-notches beauty at which no tourist brochure had ever hinted. He wrote as a lifelong North Country resident and outdoorsman. When I read his words, my imagination was fully engaged.
The first thing I ever read by Kim Nilsen was a magazine article about the Pondicherry reserve through which the CT passes. The photo accompanying the article showed an arresting vista that has since become familiar to me: serene Cherry Pond with the Presidentials looming just past it. Words and image alike were magically compelling.
I read that Pondicherry article sometime around 2005. The following year, I began making plans to hike the Cohos Trail in 2009, as a 50th-birthday gift to myself.
I had never backpacked. My camping experience had begun and ended with Girl Scouts forty years earlier. I had no backpacking equipment. I had no aerobic conditioning. I had a comically inaccurate vision of how far and how fast I could move with a pack. And in 2009, I set off anyway.
It was a trip sharply different from the one I had first envisioned. It was shorter, less ambitious, and highly dependent on support from fellow Cohos Trail fans. It was also one of the highlights of my life. Each step stretched me in body and mind.
The overwhelming generosity of people along the way caught me by surprise. John Harrigan had written about that spirit, but I never thought it would be lavished on a stranger like me. People welcomed me to their cabins, and the tent for which I had so carefully shopped got little use. I was treated to a kayak trip up East Inlet. I was taken to Pittsburg’s Old Home Day. I was driven along forty miles of Pittsburg’s unpaved roads, giving me a better sense of the vast town in which I was hiking. I got a very muddy day-long hands-on tutorial in trail maintenance.
I managed to hike a little, too: eighty-some-odd miles over nearly two weeks. Lots of slack time in there, to be sure. To this day I treasure my photo of one of the little brass international-border markers on the way to Fourth Connecticut Lake. The Quebec border was a sort of finish line. The trail has continued for me, though, from that day to this.
None of this would have been possible if Kim Nilsen hadn’t envisioned the trail many years ago and then inspired people to bring the vision to life. I’d have gotten nowhere without the work of trail adopters. I’d be poorer without the words of John Harrigan that first brought the North Country to life for me.
I’d never have known the incomparable feeling of setting up camp after a particularly beastly day on the trail, and being lulled to sleep by rain and a loon and the sound of the Connecticut River flowing into Lake Francis.
I go back to the trail once a year for two or three days at a time. Once I even pulled off a one-day trip. Eight hours in the car for five hours of trail time makes perfect sense to anyone in thrall to the Cohos Trail.
I’ll turn 60 next year. I want to celebrate with another CT hike. A real one, not a weekend visit. I want to concentrate again on the northern section, enraptured as I am by the Connecticut Lakes and the generous town of Pittsburg.
It all started for me with the work of two New Hampshire wordsmiths. I’m grateful to them, and to everyone involved in the Cohos Trail Association. I can’t be with Association supporters today as they celebrate. All I can do is express the gratitude that I’ll feel for their work all my life.
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?
A late-summer visit to Winant Park in Concord brought me the sight of tall summer wildflowers blooming cheerfully by the parking lot. Once I passed the information kiosk where the trails begin, there wasn’t a blossom in sight. Instead, mushrooms were all over the place. I don’t know what’s what when it comes to fungi, so I was reduced to simple wonder at the variety of colors and sizes. A hazy day made the usual Winant vista unremarkable, but the colorful forest floor made up for that.