Flashback to the first day of October, 2017.
Ciara and I were fresh off the road-life; nearly four months spent traveling – visiting dozens of National Parks and Forests with our doggies Boone and Crockett. While driving back from Acadia National Park in Maine, we decided to stop at this mountain with a fire tower that we had heard so much about – I had done minimal research while en route from Maine, just enough to know that hikers could sleep up in the tower! We were super excited and ready for a place to sleep (and stretch out!) that was not in my 3 person tent for the first night in many months.
We pulled off the highway and followed the signs – in fact, we could even see in the distance (which was getting closer by the mile!) the little fire tower cabin on stilts, sticking off the top of the open slab rock summit. We pulled into Winslow State Park, looked at each other and said “this place doesn’t look like the photos..” We got out of the CR-V with our grumbly bellies on our minds and went straight for the Thule on the roof where the 10lb pan of butternut squash mac & cheese was kept for safety (from the puppies!). Consulting our phones as we fed each other bites of the dairy-free deliciousness with a stellar panorama ahead of us, finally I perked up – I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’, with the bad news, but slowly I mouthed out:
“uhhh..honey.. I think we’re at the.. wrong Kearsarge..”
There was a moment of silence, then I shared the map. Another bite of vegan mac and cheese as the nut topping crumbled into my beard, “oh.. we went too far west, what do you want to do?” We ended up stuffing our tummies a bit more, walking around to see the adjacent peaks and decided to move along because we had reservations about sleeping overnight in the State Park lot. Down the road, we pulled into the edge of a driveway to consult the next map; this was the first time that we had ever been actually yelled at and chased away – while being in our car and still located in the road, our jaws scraped the pavement as we drove away remarking our new friends audacity.
That night we slept at the base of Moosilauke and fell in love with the White Mountains of New Hampshire –
several months later we were quickly becoming official residents of the state and now call both Moosilauke and our first Kearsarge – our backyard!
Fast forward to a year and a half, to a morning when I am getting ready for a morning of snowy trail running, trying to decide last minute over several cups of coffee what would be our best bet – it was a true toss up between Cardigan, Kearsarge and several more distant peaks that neither of us cared to drive to. It wasn’t until my trip to google maps that I decided that we should go visit an old friend – it was only 6 minutes further than Cardigan, and also had that fire tower at its open summit!
Not knowing what we would encounter, despite reading several trail reviews from the prior day, I had my 75L Gregory packed for a 24-mile trek (original plan was to visit The Bonds in winter, that got scrapped after I felt crummy for the better part of Saturday), also thought of grabbing my running vest just for hydration, could not decide until we reached the trail head whether I would want my Salomon SpeedSpikes, Asolo boots with snowshoes, or boots with Hillsound spikes – if there was ever a day of indecisiveness, this was surely it!
Ciara got the boys ready just the same as any other 5am morning before we piled gear into the car, as I hastily decided against both my Gregory and Salomon vest. Left both in the apartment as I brought water, carrots, bananas, apples, Asolo boots, spikes, REI insulated jacket and my Marmot Gore-Tex jacket – at least I remembered Ciara, Boone, Crockett and my gaiters!
With any instances of logical planning out the window, I congratulated myself on having a full tank of gas in the Subie!
Next stop: Winslow State Park. Back to the roads that encouraged us to make the NH move! Driving past Sunapee on 89 was just as beautiful today, with all the fresh snow as it was that autumn afternoon a year and a half earlier! We had been to enough New Hampshire State Parks in winter to expect that the final drive into the park would be gated, closed and plowed in – today was no surprise! We arrived second to the lot, I fumbled the parking options around in my mind like a game of tetris, trying to decide where my car should go to allow myself as well as everyone else to come and go freely.
The human bellies were fueled, the doggies paws were coated with a fine layer of Mushers Secret, evidently we beat all of the crowds again today as our fellow friend was prepping his snazzy short skis with skins next to his Subaru.
The mile long road walk in was a layer of ice with packed snow over-top, about two cars width in fact! We were beginning our trek in the old tread tracks of local snowmobiles, very easy to walk in. I thought about how I could have done just fine in the SpeedSpikes – this thought changed as soon as we stepped foot onto the Winslow Trail.
I could hardly believe that several months earlier we were sitting in shorts, eating Ciara’s scrumptious vegan treats –
so many leaves were gone, scenery had drastically changed with the seasons; the one image that did not change, however, was our view to the southeast – towering over one thousand feet above us was the tiny cabin perched atop the scarred summit, still bare from the 1796 fire.
Knowing that others had trekked all over these hills only yesterday, we decided to make a big “lollipop-shaped” loop out of our journey, beginning with the shorter, yet steeper of the paths: up the Winslow Trail, which is marked as 1.1 miles but also contains the 1600 feet of elevation gain from the spot where we stood. My quads and hamstrings begged for some abuse this weekend! We both remarked how lovely the forest was in this part of New Hampshire – similar to the side of Sunapee where we almost lost Boone that frightful day, the trees were short and stubby – our perfect Christmas Tree! The trail continued at a fairly steep grade, but knowing it was only for a relatively short distance – we pressed on up the hills, switchbacking several times up and around some lovely ice flows about halfway up the slope.
We came upon an open rock maybe 15-20 feet across and almost flat enough for a proper picnic had it not been covered with ice and frost! Here is where I really proved how well the new Hillsounds would stick into the tacky ice. I managed to grab several photos of our first views and, of course – some of Ciara with her boys, hopefully unaware of how wide-angle the GoPro really is! As she grew tired of my antics and taking photos of my Hillsound spikes before the fresh black powdercoat gets wore off, she turned and headed away – still climbing gradually up the hill.
We didn’t have far to go from there, in fact by the time I caught up with the other three, there was a faded silhouette cast in the monochromatic cloudy sky, the first radio tower now became visible through the lofty trees as we grew closer to the summit rocks. One final turn away from our soon-to-be trail down and we skirted the open face – now following the 2-3 foot tall rock cairns which had been built by past hikers to help aid those lost in a winter white-out.
With the brothers still on leash, Ciara booked it straight for the fire tower which still permitted us to climb the stairs up to the closed and locked hatch; I snapped a few photos of her from a distance. My primary objective while now on the summit was to venture across the three ‘could-be’ high points (each being marked by larger summit cairns and the bedrock face scratched all to hell from the elegant graffiti artists of the early 1900’s) in search of a USGS survey marker. I actually did not do any research prior to this hike (and I still haven’t by the time of writing this) to inquire if there even was a survey marker
placed atop Kearsarge. It could be due to all of the snow and ice spread across the rocks, but my searching came up empty! At least I did give myself a healthy tour of the summit rocks while it was not terribly chilly or windy at 2937′.
The exposed summit rocks boasted some incredibly elegant scripture and typefaces of individual letters all the way to complete names and dates. I roamed, while trying to tread as gently as possible on the factory fresh points of my Hillsound spikes, all over the summits – one to the next – each open slab appearing higher than the next.
I didn’t see Ciara any longer, and I definitely could not hear her over the growing wind, so I turned back and set my course toward the tower which I had yet to visit before descending. I was beginning to get chilled – and once off the rock and on the third landing of the fire tower base, the wind had picked up exponentially. Being forced to remove my glove to operate the GoPro how I wanted to – I grabbed some shots, looked around one last time for that golden survey disc – which turned up with nothing remarkable, peered around for any evidence of Ciara or the boys – which proved me to be 0/2 in this instance, I took my losses as a suggestion that I should begin making my way back down to find my buddies.
Back at the intersection – I hoped they remembered to take the Barlow Trail!
Turns out as I tried to spot them from high in the tower, they were watching me and trying to catch my attention with whistles and some hollering, none of which I heard over the wind until I re-entered the treeline on the Barlow Trail which, together we decided to take back to the trail head. This trail appeared more gradual on topographic maps – and I also knew that it was listed at 1.8mi, being 0.7 miles longer than our direct shot of a trail up, we had hoped for some butt-sliding despite forgetting our sleds at home! The trail initially followed what appeared to be a somewhat-ridgeline and then bee-lined back toward the Winslow Trail, descending with earnest now.
Having no sleds for our bums, we ran.
The boys seemed to feed on our growing speed and their pace hastened also – before long I had three speed queens on my heels, and we ran! Downhill, around corners, grabbing trees that could withstand our brief weight – we braced as we took turns and continued running the trail. We encountered the first folks heading up as we kicked up fluffy snow in our wake behind us (two of the others actually wore mountaineering boots and full crampons, ‘overkill’ I remember thinking to myself, but such a beautiful bright green set up!). A few more twists and turns and the forest became slightly more level as Ciara yelled – “Hey there’s a cabin up there!”, which turned out to be the exact spot, once again, where we had eaten our plant-based mac & cheese 18 months prior!
We made it back to the place we began, now we only had a 1-mile trek out along the same double-wide, packed down trail. We returned to the parking lot as an older couple gathered their things – the woman standing, waiting patiently for her beloved husband to get his shit in gear and hit the trail (Ciara had compared this lovely couple to us – apparently I am the one left at the car fidgeting with my gear for way too long too? Or perhaps I just like to get everything in order before setting out – especially when its cold as heck outside! 😉 ). We bid them a fantastic day out in the woods, packed up our own gear, packed out our doggy poop bags and began filling bellies with left over apples and bananas.
Another fantastic day in the woods!
I am so happy that we finally made it back to check out Kearsarge and see what we missed that October day, of course – every time we hit the trails – I only learn of even more trails and peaks that draw me and pique my attention…and whisper to me how they too want to be climbed!
And as we ascend this Kearsarge – the ‘other’, Kearsarge North – climbs a few notches higher on my ‘to-do’ list!!
Of course, as trails change with the seasons, and naturally we will be back to run them in warmer seasons and then relax on their open summits with our doggies and coconut water!
Have an awesome day, happy hiking!!
Overall Stats for the day:
Recorded with my Coros Pace GPS watch
- 4.8 miles
- 2hr 21minute
- 1,670′ elevation gain
- Mount Kearsarge – 2937′