Midweek, Mt. Monadnock

When the Forest Society announced its challenge last year, offering a patch for anyone visiting 33 specified Forest Society properties, I jumped on board immediately. Since then, I’ve had great fun discovering some new trails. Others are already familiar – Mt. Monadnock’s trails, for example.

Monadnock State Park is only one piece of the patchwork of ownership on the mountain. The Forest Society has a reservation there as well. For the most Monadnock hikers, borders between properties are imperceptible.

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The view south from Mt. Monadnock’s Halfway House clearing

On a recent visit to Monadnock, my indifferent level of fitness ruled out a summit hike. I settled for an easy walk to the Halfway House clearing, featuring a wonderful view to the south with Gap Mountain foremost.

The well-marked parking lot on NH Route 124 on the south side of the mountain is where to pick up the Halfway House trail and the parallel Old Toll Road path. (Bring $5 for park admission; there’s an iron ranger when the booth is unattended.) The Old Toll Road is a wide, well-drained boulevard with a packed crushed-gravel surface. Uphill, to be sure, but easy. It leads to a tiny patch of private land with an imposing house on it. Past the house, the boulevard becomes a trail: rocks, roots, spring’s inevitable mud. No problem. The Halfway House clearing, named for an inn that once stood there, is less than a 5-minute walk ahead.

Old Toll Road, Spring

Old Toll Road, mid-spring

I looked up to the summit and saw no hikers. That’s unusual, as local hikers will attest. Normally the summit seen from that distance looks like an anthill.

A cool breeze kept the bugs away on the overcast day. I knew I was likely to be rained on any minute. I didn’t care. Solitude on a Monadnock trail is meant to be savored.

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A peek at Monadnock’s summit from the Halfway House clearing

Recovery: I couldn’t have done it alone

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.

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Flat trails have been blessings to me this year.

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.

Heald Tract guided hike

I joined 17 people and one tiny-but-mighty dog for a leisurely three-mile amble through a portion of the Forest Society’s Heald Tract in Wilton, New Hampshire.

Castor Pond, where we enjoyed lunch on our hike. It’s home to heron and other water birds, as well as beaver and otter.

 

Our guide was David, a volunteer for the Harris Center for Conservation Education. Two of my fellow hikers owned property near the tract and knew a lot about the history of the area. This made for good company and good conversation for the three hours we spent together.

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We walked through an area with old wells and foundations, and heard tales of the people who had built them and settled the area. We saw the most imposing beaver dam I’ve ever laid eyes on. I heard kingfisher as we sat pondside enjoying our lunch. No one was in a hurry, the company was congenial, and the weather was fine. I left determined to keep an eye on the Forest Society and Harris Center calendars in the future for other walks like this one.

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This barn foundation dating back to the nineteenth century is about six feet high. The rest of the structure was lost to fire long ago.

For more about the Heald Tract including a map of the trails, go to forestsociety.org. Learn more about the Harris Center at harriscenter.org.

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This little terrier is an unlikely-looking hiker, but she proved to be an intrepid and friendly companion.

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The opening to this old well is about five and a half feet across – easily the largest I’ve seen.

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David from the Harris Center led the hike.

This weekend, a guided hike

I’m heading to Wilton this weekend to join a group hike through the Forest Society’s Heald Tract, guided by a gentleman from the Harris Center for Conservation Education. Solo hiking is usually my preference. I can learn from naturalists, though, and seeing a trail through someone else’s eyes always reveals something new.

On my first visit to the Heald Tract some years back, as I walked on a trail edging a pond, a pair of Canada geese suddenly began honking nearby. They had been hidden by some reeds near the shore. They swam away toward the center of the pond, honking loudly all the time, yet not taking to flight. It dawned on me that I might have gotten close to their nest and that the birds were trying to distract me from it. I don’t know why they didn’t just chase me. I backed away and took another trail, and soon the geese quieted down.

I saw my first grouse that day, but it saw me first and shot up from the ground as I approached. Startled me senseless for a moment. I recovered my wits in time to admire the bird as it fled.

Several organizations sponsor group hikes or trail work days in southern New Hampshire, as do some local conservation commissions. Watch for event calendars, such as those from the Forest Society, the Harris Center, and Beaver Brook (Hollis).

Glimpses of fall

It’s the prime part of the year for Granite State walkers of all ages. Crisp air and fewer bugs make every trail more inviting. And then there’s fall foliage, which I thought would be a disappointment after our region’s drought. How wrong I was.

I have a paper map of New Hampshire that I’ve marked with sites of historical markers, Forest Society reservations, and of course state parks. It’s a great guide for my daytrips. Last weekend, I consulted the map and set off to scout some trailheads for future exploration. I meandered all over the place, just for fun.

Once I got home, I discovered that many of the photos I’d taken with my phone were unfocused and useless. (I blame the equipment and the photographer in equal measure.) You simply have to trust me that it was a good day. You can make some good days of your own on Granite State highways and trails.

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The drive to the Green Mountain trailhead at the end of High Watch Road was the stuff of travelogues. There’s a point on Route 16 northbound from Rochester where I got to a rise in the road, and suddenly mountains were in view, swathed in colors. Past peak, perhaps, but still exciting and refreshing.

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View to the north from High Watch Road. I’m pretty sure that’s Mount Chocorua in the distance on the left. A hike for another day, perhaps?

Once on the trail, I very nearly threw away my watch. There was a fire tower up there, after all, and what views it promised! But this was a scouting trip, and I had a schedule to keep, so I contented myself with a short walk in the woods and a silent promise to come back someday.

New Durham

Route 11 connects Rochester and Alton, with New Durham along the way. A 55-mph speed limit makes scanning for trailheads a bit tricky. I plugged the coordinates for Cooper Cedar Woods into my phone’s GPS and hoped for the best. It worked, which is always a pleasant surprise to someone who surrounds herself with low-grade electronics.

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In Cooper Cedar Woods, New Durham, NH. 

The wooded tract features a simple loop trail less than a mile long, and I had it all to myself. I set off and was startled immediately: the fragrance in the air was amazing. No cologne in a bottle could compare. It was some indescribable combination of trees and their fallen leaves, unique to that particular location. I could hear Route 11’s auto traffic nearby, and yet it seemed to be a world away.

Rochester

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Champlin Forest, seen from Route 108 in Rochester, NH

Early in my road-trip day, I was one of the walkers bringing up the rear at the Foley Run in Rochester, a joyous 5k event in memory of photojournalist James Foley. Main Street’s trees were at their showiest, right on schedule for the visiting racers.

After a quick post-race snack of bagels and fruit and (OK, I’ll admit it) a pastry, I drove south of town to a quiet parking area tucked across the road from the town’s airport. Here was the Champlin Forest, another Forest Society property, with about two miles of trails meandering through it. A woods walk, pleasant though unremarkable, except there’s this:

As a community resource featuring woods, water, wildlife and high-quality farm soils, Champlin Forest has many significant and diverse conservation features. Half of the property consists of well-managed, productive woodlands, containing marketable timber along with a diversity of wildlife habitats, consisting of a field, varied woodland types, vernal pools and wetlands.

The property serves as the headwaters of and includes extensive frontage along Clark Brook and contributes to two nearby public water supplies. Remnants of a small-scale granite quarry dating to the mid-1800s, when stones were drilled and cut by hand, are evident as well.

 

Spotted during the day:

This in Wolfeboro. ice-harvesting-wolfeboro

In Barrington. Yes, that’s frost on the ground, and I slipped on it.

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On Route 16 in Wakefield, on the way to Effingham.

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A visit to Madame Sherri’s place

With a car and several hours at my disposal this weekend, I decided to head out to New Hampshire’s southwestern corner for a visit to the Madame Sherri forest in Chesterfield. I average about one hike there per decade. Believe me, it rates more. Only my distance from the area keeps me from more frequent visits.

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The castle staircase: a signature spot in Madame Sherri Forest.

And who is the Madame Sherri who left us with the remnants of a castle? The Forest Society tells you all about it on a page that includes important information about the trails on the property.

I was a little concerned when I arrived at the trailhead and found the parking area filled and the roadside lined with “no parking” signs. I managed to find a tiny spot that accommodated my tiny car. Here’s a tip: the kiosk at the far side of the parking lot has a little notice card informing visitors that overflow parking is available a short distance up the dead-end road across from the trailhead. Too bad the sign can’t be seen from the road, but I’ll remember the parking arrangements for next time.

Once on the trails, I crossed three bridges over dry streambeds. The area’s drought is not easing. All the more remarkable, then, that wildflowers continue to bloom. I love the icy-blue asters still flowering.

Indian Pond may be lower than usual, but it’s still a beautiful spot.

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Indian Pond, Chesterfield, New Hampshire.

And then there’s the castle, which rates a respectful nod at each visit. Imagine what the full structure must have looked like in its glory days. The kiosk at the parking area actually has some good photos and historical information about the site.

I picked a wonderful day for a drive, with Monadnock dominating the scene between Dublin and Keene. I had actually planned to make several stops yesterday: Madame Sherri, Gap Mountain, and a short visit to Monadnock’s lower slope. Once in Chesterfield, though, I decided to enjoy the forest. More trail time, less car time. I don’t regret the decision.

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The Granite State Walker at Madame Sherri’s castle.