First day hike 2017: Wellington State Park

New Hampshire enjoyed benign weather on New Year’s Day, perfect for a First Day Hike. I headed to Bristol, home of Wellington State Park and the Elwell Trail. No snowshoes needed; the trail was well-packed. Gravity got the best of me a few times despite the YakTrax on my boots, but I fell gently thanks to the snow cover. About sixteen of us were led up the trail by Andrew of the Newfound Lake Region Association.

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Newfound Lake in Bristol, NH, seen from Little Sugarloaf

Our destination was Little Sugarloaf, a modest little peak about a mile and a half from the Wellington parking lot. There were plenty of hikers on the hiking trails and snowmobilers on the snowmobile trails, with cooperation and good cheer all around.

The payoff view: Newfound Lake on a clear and sunny day, with ideal sights and sounds. We watched a pair of bald eagles fly around the islands below us. The snowy peaks of Franconia Notch about 40 miles away were visible. I knew there were snowmobiles all over the lower trails, but I could barely hear them from Little Sugarloaf’s summit.

A few of my more ambitious companions decided to hike on to Sugarloaf, a few hundred feet higher and (I’m told) with much more exposed ledge than Little Sugarloaf. I might check that out some autumn day.

Find maps of the area at newfoundlake.org.

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Happy New Year from the Granite State Walker!

 

October, Pack Monadnock

Columbus Day weekend is wrapping up for the leaf-peepers. Autumn colors are still muted in my area, except for a few specimen trees flashing scarlet. I figured the Monadnocks would be a little showier today. I stole a couple of hours from my schedule this morning and headed to Miller State Park in time for a walk up the auto road before it opened to cars for the day. I actually spent time alone on the summit of Pack Monadnock! A rare treat, that. I thank God for days like this.

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From the Pack Monadnock summit: Mt. Monadnock, about twelve miles away.

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Near the base of the auto road. My guess is that the P on this marker is for Peterborough, one of three towns that can lay claim to part of Pack Monadnock.

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Plenty of colorful foliage over there on North Pack Monadnock.

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When I took my kids to Pack Monadnock when they were little, the first thing they wanted to check from the summit was whether it was “a Boston day,” clear enough to see Beantown’s skyline. Today was a Boston day.

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Bleached by the sun’s glare: the New Boston Air Force Station’s radomes on the left, city of Manchester, New Hampshire on the right.

And here’s the Granite State Walker, offering a chocolate-milk toast to the physical therapist who helped me get my knee back into shape this year.me-on-pack-monadnock

First Day Hike 2016: Hollis

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Woodmont Orchard, Hollis NH, New Year’s Day.

The New Hampshire state parks people added Silver Lake State Park to the list of locations for guided First Day hikes, and I think this one’s a keeper. The state park abuts town conservation land with trails maintained by the local snowmobile club. With the area’s first measurable snowfall of the season having fallen just a few days ago, boots were all the equipment I needed to join the fun. I left in the car every accessory except my camera and a map, and spent an hour on trails I’d never visited.

 

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I didn’t even mind the snowmobile that passed me at one point. It would have been churlish of me to object to the exhaust fumes when people like the sled’s cheerful and careful driver maintain the trail I was on.

Days like this remind me why I started this blog. Silver Lake State Park is where I used to take my kids swimming when they were little, and I thought the lake itself was all there was to it. Today, after living in the area for a whole lotta years, I discovered new trails in what I thought was a familiar place.

New Hampshire is really a tiny slice of the republic, and the southern tier is even tinier. Yet here in what looks like an insubstantial part of the map are parks and trails that most New Hampshire visitors and even some residents will never see. Every year, I find something new: a little trail connecting two urban parks, country roads with drivers who don’t mind sharing the pavement with pedestrians, a Hollis trail connecting Silver Lake with Woodmont Orchard. I want to drink it all in and come back for more.

 

Pawtuckaway, Round Pond Road

The snowless days are ending; I’ll be shoveling my driveway in just a few days, if the forecast holds. This was my last chance to visit some nearby trails before winter conditions set in. I had planned to walk up a hill with a pretty view, but decided at the last minute to stick to level paths. I went to Pawtuckaway State Park and explored the northwest corner of the park via Reservation Road and Round Pond Road.

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Reservation Road in Pawtuckaway State Park, December 26, soon to be snow-covered.

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North Mountain seen from Round Pond Road. This must be a wonderful birding spot at dawn and dusk.

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I don’t know what agency or company owns this odd square-shaped antenna on North Mountain. 

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Round Pond, harshly lit on a brilliant sunny day. The pond is about two and a half miles from where I parked on Reservation Road.

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A side trail off Round Pond Road leads to the Boulder Field, where the woods are full of large glacial erratics. Dozens of rock climbers were nearby practicing their craft.

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I heard a pileated woodpecker hammering away on my way to the pond, and saw this (but no woodpecker) on my return walk.

 

 

 

Cheshire County drive

I spent this foggy and snowless December day driving from the Merrimack River to the Connecticut River and back, stopping for walks now and then. Visibility was too limited to make a mountain hike worthwhile, but rail trails and roadside parks made for fine stops.

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Rockwood Pond, Fitzwilliam NH

I chose a short segment between the nicely-restored depot in Troy and Rockwood Pond in Fitzwilliam – a round trip of just over four miles on a wide, straight trail. Conditions were fine. The only sounds were from birds and my own steps. No ice or snow, just a bit of mud on the southern half of the walk. I’m told that on a clear day there’s a splendid view of Mount Monadnock from the shore of Rockwood Pond. I thought this morning’s fog on the pond made for a pretty good view on its own.

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No one else in sight, and hardly a sound besides birdsong.

Swanzey was next, and I managed to work a pair of the town’s famed covered bridges into my route. Pleasant as they were, the most exciting sight of the day was a bald eagle I spotted as I was driving. (No photo. Why couldn’t it have come into sight while I was walking?)

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Thompson Bridge in Swanzey, complete with sidewalk. 

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In New Hampshire, where there’s a river, odds are there used to be mills.

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Ashuelot River seen from Thompson Bridge. The Ashuelot rail trail is nearby.

The village of Ashuelot is in Winchester, my next stop. It has a covered bridge of its own. The rail trail goes by an abandoned RR depot that looks pretty sorry after the cheery little depot in Troy. The “no trespassing” signs all over the place don’t help.

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Bridge in the village of Ashuelot, Winchester NH

After business in Brattleboro, Vermont – the main purpose of my trip – I took the more-or-less direct route back east, along New Hampshire routes 9 and 101. I stopped for a half hour at Chesterfield Gorge,  a small roadside state park on  route 9.

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Enjoy Chesterfield Gorge with just a three-quarter-mile loop walk from the parking area.

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Wilde Brook, which cuts Chesterfield Gorge.

The ride home took me past Monadnock, invisible in the persistent fog. It’s strange to look across Dublin Lake and know the mountain is right there yet out of sight.

As the photos show, this is a very mild late autumn. In a fit of irrational exuberance, I almost tossed sandals in the car before I left home. Good thing I refrained; there was just enough mud and chill to make me glad I wore sensible shoes.

 

Exceptional autumn – and a winter hike is already on my schedule

November’s here in southern New Hampshire, and foliage season goes on. Scarlet’s gone, but gold and bronze persist. Autumns like this make winters like the last one worth enduring. The trees in my yard are one stiff windstorm away from being stripped, but for now the leaves are dropping lazily.

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Already, New Hampshire State Parks has announced its slate of First Day hikes for January 1, 2016. Silver Lake in Hollis has been added to the usual venues: Monadnock, Weeks (please, someone up north go enjoy that one for me!), and Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion Historic Site. I like my New Year’s Day options: a First Day hike, the Peanut Chip Chase 5k in Temple, or something else that might occur to me the day before.

But that’s two whole months away. For now, autumn.

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