Coos County Visit

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.

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Mount Magalloway (in cloud) and First Connecticut Lake. All photos in this post by Ellen Kolb.

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.

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Second Connecticut Lake, at a low late-summer level.

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.

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“Lainie’s Lair,” on the Cohos Trail.

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.)

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Sophie’s Lane trail kiosk

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.

Lake Francis Murphy Dam

Lake Francis seen from Murphy Dam

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.

Road Tripping

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!

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On a cloudy morning, the Cog Railway track seemed to disappear into Mount Washington.

Stalbird marker with Mt Martha

That’s Mount Martha (Cherry Mountain) behind the Granny Stalbird marker in Jefferson.

City Trees Built marker

Berlin boasts four markers, each featuring a different aspect of the city’s heritage.

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?

Mt. Prospect summit view

Looking north from the Mt. Prospect fire tower at Weeks State Park: Weeks home and the Percy Peaks.

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Mt. Prospect’s one-of-a-kind fire tower.

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GSW rail trail photos in latest edition of New England Antiques Journal

Treat yourself to this article by Brian Roche in the latest edition of New England Antiques Journal: Bridging the Gap Between Past and Present: The Preservation and Repurposing of Historic Railroad BridgesIn one of the sidebars, you’ll see some pictures familiar to longtime readers of Granite State Walker.

Hands Across the Merrimack (and Manchester)

Hands Across the Merrimack bridge, Manchester NH

I was surprised and pleased to get a call a few months ago from Mr. Roche, a freelance writer. While researching the rail bridge article, he came across this blog and its posts about the Hands Across the Merrimack bridge in Manchester. He kindly sought permission to use some of my photos.

The resulting article features photos of several northeastern bridges of striking beauty. I’m honored that a few of my photos made the cut.

Mr. Roche spelled my name correctly in his text; it was left to a magazine editor to misspell it in the sidebar. But to err is human, and to publish photos of a New Hampshire treasure is divine.

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Second Street bridge, just west of Hands Across the Merrimack Bridge, along the Pisacataquog trail.

 

A short stop at Winant Park, Concord

I love these little discoveries that leave me wondering how did I not find this place sooner: this week, it was Winant Park in Concord, near St. Paul’s School. I’d seen it listed on the city’s map of area trails, but had never managed to find time for a visit until recently.

My first attempt at a visit ended quickly due to ice on the trail, as seen in the photo below. A few spring-like February days later, I returned and enjoyed 45 good minutes in the woods.

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Winant Park trailhead in Concord on an icy day. The bridge deck was clear just a few days later, after a February thaw.

Piles of snow edged the parking lot and some stretches of trail, but a warm week had melted a great deal of snow and left the trails muddy. There were a few other cars in the trailhead parking lot, which is easy to find on Fisk Road just off Pleasant Street.

The park is wooded, with a pair of vistas I enjoyed: a view featuring the State House dome (a view obviously preserved with diligent tree-trimming) and a view of the hills and low mountains to the south and southwest. A kiosk at the trailhead and informational signs along the trails offer information about the park’s history. The trail network is simple and well-marked.

Winant Park SSW overlook

View from a hill in Winant Park (l-r): the Lyndeborough hills, Crotched Mountain, and Monadnock peeking out from behind Crotched’s ski area.

This is an urban park, with “urban” being relative; we’re talking Concord here, not Boston. It’s not a destination park like Monadnock or Pawtuckaway. It’s an easy stop for anyone in or near Concord, though, and it’s a fine place for a quiet walk in the woods. Make a point of finding that southwestern vista, which might not be so visible once the trees leaf out.

In kindness to the trails and their maintainers, I’ll wait until mud season is over before I pay another visit here. But I will be back.

Destinations, Found and Missed

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.

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.

 

 

 

Back to Oak Hill

Over the ten years I’ve been keeping this blog, there’s one unassuming little post that keeps getting hits every single month: my walk to the Oak Hill fire tower where Concord meets Loudon, New Hampshire. Is it the “fire tower” phrase that keeps the search engines happy, or does Concord have a lot of enthusiastic local walkers?

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The only blossoms in sight on a spring day were on the ground cover at the edge of the trail. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

Either way, the Oak Hill trails deserve the attention. They’re pleasant, easy, varied, and only a few minutes away from downtown Concord. I headed there after some work at the State House recently, knowing that I could only spare a half hour or so.

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Junctions are well-marked, but this little “new vista” sign helped keep me on the right path.

I followed the signs to “vista,” only about a 12-minute walk from the parking area, and was treated to a good view of Mt. Kearsarge. I had thought that the fire tower was the only place on the hill with such a vista. My quick visit was well-rewarded. Bonus: a walk in the woods after a few hours in a hearing room is a good idea.

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Mt. Kearsarge to the west. Trees conceal the Merrimack River, flowing south past the industrial building at right.