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.

Magalloway from Ramblewood

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.

Lainie's Lair

“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.)

snowmobile trail information kiosk, Pittsburg NH

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!

Cog marker

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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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.

 

 

 

Is that what I looked like?!

True confession: I just watched the four-part Gilmore Girls update on Netflix. What can I say? I got hooked when my daughter watched the originals all those years ago. A few scenes in the new show cracked me up in a way my daughter might not get.

In the program, the co-leading actress, supposedly in her late 40s, decides she needs to take a hike in the manner of Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail. The character doesn’t know the first thing about hiking, or even about the outdoors for that matter. Hilarity ensues. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t get past the trailhead.

I saw her trying to cram all her stuff into her backpack, and it sent me right back to my 2009 Cohos Trail trek, my one and only backpacking trip so far. I wanted to mark my 50th birthday with a solo hike. I picked a good one. It was a formidable undertaking, though, and despite many months of preparation and training, I was a total amateur.

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How amateur? In all the months of training for longer and longer walks, I never carried any weight on my back. Never. Imagine how I felt when I slung my overladen backpack onto my shoulders the first day of my hike and struggled to walk up a not-very-steep hill. I thought I had eliminated all unnecessary pack weight. I hadn’t. To compound the mistake, I had misthreaded my pack straps. I figured that much out after the first mile.

The trip got much better in spite of all that.

I laughed – nay, I howled – at our Netflix heroine’s bulging, ill-balanced, enormous pack. I realized at that moment just how comical I must have looked to all the amazing, generous people in Pittsburg, New Hampshire who offered me hospitality along my way in 2009. They were very kind by not laughing in my face. I sure had it coming.

Once I was within walking distance of the Pittsburg post office, I mailed home equipment that I didn’t need. As a result, I practically sailed through 19 miles my last day on the Trail.

If you’ve never taken a long hike but you want to give it a try, go ahead – I heartily endorse the notion. Train with weight, though, and be really picky about what constitutes “necessary” equipment. Don’t look like something out of Netflix.

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.

 

 

Join me: team up to support the Cohos Trail

Let me step away from my southern New Hampshire trails for a minute and draw your attention to my very favorite upstate place, the Cohos Trail. I’ve held forth at length about my long hike through the Connecticut Lakes portion of the CT up to the Canadian border, and slightly closer to home is the segment through the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge that greets me like a friend whenever I visit.

The Cohos Trail Association – an all-volunteer group, I might add – has launched a crowdfunding effort to raise $7500 build more shelters along the 170-mile long path. The trail’s founder and leading light, Kim Nilsen, makes his pitch here to all who love the Granite State’s wild places.

Every little bit helps, and the Cohos Trail’s volunteers know how to stretch a dollar. You can learn more at the web site for the trail and at the Friends of the Cohos Trail Facebook page. 

And be sure to share the crowdfunding page! Thanks!

New Cohos Trail web site goes live

The Cohos Trail is about 160 miles long, winding through New Hampshire’s North Country from Crawford Notch to the Canadian border. The northernmost section is a favorite of mine, and I’ve recounted my longest hike there at my blog Cohos to Canada.

The official web site for the trail has just gone live after a complete re-design. Check it out, and I hope you’ll share it with your friends. If you’re a New Hampshire hiker and you’ve never been north of the Whites, the site will inspire you. If you’re from more distant parts, the Cohos Trail just might tempt you to this little corner of New England.

Enjoy!

www.cohostrail.org
Pliny Range, north of Cherry Pond along the Cohos Trail

Pliny Range, north of Cherry Pond along the Cohos Trail