Bear to Beer: Middle and Peaked Mountains

My guy opened his Christmas Bear to Beer box and considered the possibilities. The winner was . . .

Middle to Peaked Mountains in North Conway, New Hampshire.

The day had dawned warm after the recent deep freeze and so we had to consider how to dress and what to use for footwear.

Given that our route would take us uphill as we ascended via the Middle Mountain Trail to Middle Mountain, retrace our steps to the connector before summiting Peaked Mountain and then follow the Peaked Mountain Trail down, we knew we needed to dress in layers, but not quite so many and not quite so heavy.

We also weren’t sure of our footwear until we arrived at the parking area and saw the well-packed trail. Our choice–micro-spikes over snowshoes. We only hoped that when we reached the intersection of the Middle Mountain Trail and the Connector Trail, we wouldn’t regret our decision. But time would tell.

In the meantime, after we climbed over the snowbanks to get to the trailhead, we had to conquer the gate. We’ve climbed Peaked in the past, as well as walked the Pudding Pond Trail, both part of the Green Hills Preserve, so we knew that typically one walks around the gate. Today, we merely stepped over it–which tells you something about the snow depth.

At .2 miles, the trail comes to a T. The right hand route leads to Pudding Pond, while the left requires a brook crossing before continuing on to the mountain trails.

A bit further along, we came to one set of several that denote the trail system. In terms of following it via the signs, trail blazes, and well worn path, it was easy. Given the soft snow conditions and contour, we’d rank it a moderate hike.

It was one that got the hearts pumping, which is always a good thing. And when one of us needed a rest, we pretended that we just wanted to admire the sound and sight of the gurgling brook.

We passed through a few natural communities, including hemlock groves, and mixed forest. But our focus was really on any beech trees and by the leaves that littered the path, we knew there were plenty.

We scanned the bark every time we spied a beech, and saw not a nail scrape anywhere. But . . . sad to say we did notice tarry spots which oozed out of the cracks in the bark caused by cankers a tree develops as a defensive attempt to ward off beech scale insects and the nectria pathogens that follow their entry points.

The community changed again as we approached the summit of Middle Mountain, where red pines dominated the scenery. And in the warm sun, the snow became softer.

Two miles and some sweat equity later, we’d shed some clothes and reached the top.

From there, my guy went in search of lunch rock and I eventually followed.

It was actually more of lunch ledge and we set up camp, using the jackets we weren’t wearing as our seating area.

The view beyond our feet included Conway Lake in the distance. Lunch consisted of chicken salad sandwiches made with our own cranberry orange relish offering a taste of day in the fen picking berries, a Lindt peppermint dark chocolate ball, and an orange, topped off with frequent sips of water.

While we sat there, I did what I do. There were no beech trees to look at and so I focused in on the bonsai red pine in front of us. Its form, unlike its relatives who stood tall behind us, was the result of growing on the edge of the ledge where it took the brunt of the weather.

I took the liberty of turning a photo of a lower branch 90 degrees because I could see the face of the tree spirit reaching out as it formed a heart. It is February after all.

But enough of that. We were on a mission to find a bear paw tree. When I chose this trail, I had no idea if we’d see one. Yes, we’d climbed Peaked in the past, but never had we noticed any trees with such marks left behind.

So, down we slid, I mean climbed, off Middle Mountain until we reached the connector and could see Peaked’s summit in the background.

We weren’t too far along when our constant scanning paid off! Bingo. A bear paw tree. Some people bag peaks. We bag bear paw trees.

Our mission accomplished, though we continued to look, we journeyed on to the second summit.

From there, we had more of a view of North Conway below, the Moats forming the immediate backdrop, and Mount Chocorua behind.

In front of us, we looked across to Middle Mountain from whence we’d just come.

And behind, Cranmore Mountain Ski Area and Kearsarge North in the background.

With my telephoto lens I could pull in the fire tower atop Kearsarge. It’s among our favorite hiking destinations.

We didn’t stay atop Peaked as long as we had on Middle because the wind was picking up. On our journey down, the mountain views included Washington.

We continued to look for bear trees but found no others. That being said, there were plenty of beech trees on the Peaked Mountain Trail, but the sun was in our eyes for much of the journey, and we had to pay attention to where we placed our feet because traveling was a bit slippery given the soft snow. Maybe there were others after all, and we just didn’t notice.

We completed the 5.5 mile hike about four hours after beginning, ran a few errands, and finally found our way to the finish of today’s bear to beer possibility at the Sea Dog Brewing Company. Black bears like to sip too!

Plan B Mondate

We had a hike in Evans Notch planned for today, but a look at the weather forecast made us question our choice.

Forecaster Jack made the following prediction: “Current observations this morning show the long-awaited cold front just about to clear the coast. NW winds are already in progress across the mountains behind the front. Today’s weather will be dominated by a familiar pattern that we haven’t gotten to enjoy much recently: upslope/downslope. The mountains will see plenty of cloud cover as air is forced to rise up the NW slopes. As that air descends the SE slopes of the mountains, it warms and dries, leading to sunny conditions along the coastal plain. All models are in agreement that temperatures will be moving downward today, so the ‘high temperature’ is whatever you’re seeing right now. For the mountains, this means that temperatures in the mountains will fall from the low 50s this morning down through the 40s this afternoon before arriving in the 30s this evening. Temps along the coast will be about 10 degrees warmer with morning 60s cooling to afternoon 50s and evening 40s.

Consequently, we thought about changing our plans since it seemed like any foliage views would be under cloud cover. And then Marita sent me an invitation to hike with her tomorrow, which I can’t do, but we decided we’d invite her to join us today–on a hike of her choice.

r1-trail sign

The Red Tail Trail off Hurricane Mountain and the backside of Cranmore Mountain was the path she chose. It’s a funky trailhead to locate–park near the little cement building and gate, walk up the dirt road to a large water tank (now decorated with graffiti), and skip the first trailhead to Kettle Ridge, instead circling about halfway around the tank where a small sign about ten feet up a tree marks the way.

r30-dam

For a half mile or so, the trail follows No Name Brook, so named by moi because I have yet to locate its identity, but it parallels Hurricane Mountain Road. Near the start, barbed wire and an old mill dam bespoke its former use.

r31-no name brook

We followed it, slipping down occasionally for a closer look and listen–its rhythmic cadence so pleasing to our souls.

r3-giant erratic

And then we came upon the glacial erratic that must have landed with a thud one day about 10,000 years ago. Standing over the brook and covered in polypody ferns and asters, it resembled a small, two story earth house with a garden roof.

r4-sending puffball spores airborne

Shortly before breaking into the old log landing, which had been transformed into a mountain bike park with jumps of sorts since we last traveled this way, Marita spied several large clumps of puffballs. And so I encouraged her to poke them.

r5-spores wafting forth

She channeled her inner child as she poked one after another, releasing the spores which wafted skyward, mimicking a smokey fire.

r6-climbers trail sign

Arriving in the log landing, we were a bit confused about whether to follow the bike trail and then my guy spied a small yellow sign–and we found our way, for climbers were we.

r7-hobblebush color deepening

And because there were so many along the lower part of the route near the brook, I once again celebrated the variation of colors portrayed by the hobblebush shrubs.

r8-mount kearsarge 1

We zigged and zagged as we made our way through hardwood, softwood and new succession areas of forest. At last, we looked northwest and were greeted with the sight of another old favorite–Mount Kearsarge North. And the color display.

r9-Whitehorse ledge

Across the valley, we also spied White Horse Ledge and the White Mountain Motel.

r10-upslope clouds

After climbing 2.6 miles, we came to a T, and turned left toward the Black Cap Mountain trail. In the offing, we could see those upslope clouds overtaking the mountains beyond.

r14-Mt Wash and Kearsarge

And ever so slowly snaking their way over Mount Washington.

r15-lunch rock

By the time we reached lunch rock atop Black Cap, we were rather warm . . . and hungry.

r16-me and my guy

But ready to pose once we’d eaten.

r17-mountain ash fruits

As we looked about at the top, we admired the red, red berries of Mountain Ash, and wondered about their edibility. According to Weeds of the Woods by Glen Blouin, the scarlet fruits provide food for “many species of songbirds, including cedar waxwings, grosbeaks, and robins . . . they are also a favorite of both black bear and ruffed grouse.” Blouin adds, “The berries are rich in both iron and vitamin C and were used (medicinally) both fresh and in teas, to treat scurvy. Prior to ripening, the fruit is high in tartaric acid and is unpalatable. After a few frosts, the taste mellows and, though still bitter, the fruit becomes edible.” To that end, he provides a recipe for Mountain Ash Berry Jelly. Hmmm.

r18-starting down from Black Cap

For our descent, we decided to follow the loop trail around the summit of Black Cap.

r19-down 2

With each change of natural community, we enjoyed the color it offered.

r20-yellow birch

Back on the Red Tail Trail, Marita spied a tree we’d previously walked under, but not noticed. “What is it?” she asked, commenting that it looked like two different trees. Indeed, it wasn’t. Instead, it was an old yellow birch that had toppled a bit, caught in another tree and continued to grow–sending new branches skyward that looked like young trees on their own.

r21-hemlocks and pines

Again we zigged and zagged, changing up leaders as we wound our way down.

r21-upslope clouds advancing

At the point where we’d first enjoyed the views of Mounts Washington and Kearsarge, we again paused. That section had been previously bushhogged, thus providing an exceptional vista.

r22-upslope wrapping around Washington

And again we noted the upslope clouds curling around Washington, but chuckled that the mountain we’d originally intended to climb was probably in the clear.

r22-flowers in bloom

Our downward climb was much faster than our upward and in what seemed like no time, we reached the “bike park.” What had once been a mass of wildflowers overtaking the log landing, had become small patches and we were surprised that they still bloomed.

r25-squared rocks

Back at the brook, we commented on the squared off sections of granite and wondered about the processes that created such.

r28-artist conk

And then we reached the trailhead, where I spied an old favorite–an artist conk that has a surface area of about two feet.

From beginning to end, we knew that Plan B was really better than Plan A–for we’d had fun introducing Marita to a trail we like as we shared stories, laughter, lunch rock, and later a post-hike beer.

 

Mount Tom Revisited

As we tried to figure out where we’d hike today, we decided a familiar route would suit us and I was pleased when my guy suggested Mount Tom in Fryeburg. It’s an old favorite that has improved with age since The Nature Conservancy added a new trail recently. This property was important to them because the Saco River flows below.

I’d first explored the new trail with Marita Wiser, author of HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, in October and then with my guy a short time later.

m1-cemetery-buried

Today, we decided to park our truck across from the old trailhead and walk down Menotomy Road so we wouldn’t have that trudge after our hike. I wish the trail was a loop, but it can’t be and so we made our own. The snowstorms of the last two weeks had buried the cemetery entrance and only a couple of headstones poked out.

m2-preserve-sign

One and a half miles later, we climbed over the snowbank at the trailhead and strapped on our snowshoes.

m5-my-guy

We were thankful that someone or two or three had packed the trail before us.

m4-center-chimney

Just after stepping onto the West Ridge Trail, we passed between a house and barn foundation. All that was visible–the center chimney’s supporting structure, which probably dates back to the 1800s. Perhaps the original homesteaders were buried in the cemetery.

m6-tinder-1

At first the tromp was easy because it passes gently across the terrain and so I had time to look around. Fresh tinder conks growing on paper birch trees pleased my eye.

m7-tinder-2

I love their colors, which reminded me of oyster shells I’d spent a childhood collecting.

m8-erratics

A few minutes later I spied a house I hadn’t noticed in the fall. My guy looked over and told me it wasn’t a house at all.

m9-erratics-2

He was right, of course. Two large boulders, erratics dropped by the glaciers that formed Mount Tom, a Roche Moutonnée, stood out because of their snow covered tops. We didn’t move closer, but I’ve a feeling they provided homes for mosses and ferns and other assorted flora and perhaps even wildlife. So maybe I was also correct.

m10-summit-in-distance

After crossing the snowmobile trail that passes through the preserve, we continued on through the hardwood forest and started climbing up and sometimes down. Through the trees we spied the summit, but still had a ways to go.

m11-white-oak-bark

One of my favorite trees grows in this forest–white oak. And though it’s not common in the woods I normally traverse, I’m learning to identify it by the plated blocks of its bark.

m12-white-oak-leaf

It helps, of course, when the round-lobed leaves are found nearby.

m13-ledges

At last we reached the ledges, where I’d hoped to see bobcat sign. We did see porcupine evidence, but the snow was soft and tracks almost indecipherable.

m14-pileated-pile

We also found plenty of signs of another frequent visitor. But with that–a major disappointment. I’m sorry to report that I didn’t find any pileated woodpecker scat today.

m16-squirell-works

Across the trail from the pileated debris, the work of a gray squirrel. Dinner required toil–it had dug a hole that looked to be about three feet deep. How do they know where to find those acorns they cached last fall? I’m always in wonder of such digs. And those that they don’t find become trees. It’s all good.

m17-tree-welcome

I probably wouldn’t have missed this tree, but my guy wanted to make sure I saw it. He spread his arms in the same manner and felt it was welcoming us to the ridge. Indeed.

m18-downy-feather

Nearby, someone else was welcomed–and I’m not referring to the acorn. Yes, that provided a squirrel meal, but scattered feathers indicated a downy woodpecker met its demise. And a predator dined.

m19-burl-revealed

We were almost to the summit when a burl revealed some of its inner beauty–the bark having fallen off. Grains once straight twisted and contorted thanks to a virus or fungus or some other means. I loved the swirl of lines, some thin and squiggly.

m20-summit-view

And then the beauty of the view greeted us–Pleasant Mountain in the distance and the Saco River valley below. We met a young family at the summit and thanked them for paving the way. They’d never climbed here before and asked about the old trail down.

m21-trail-signs-at-intersection

We explained that that was our choice and though it’s a bit steeper, it’s a quicker way back to the road.

m22-blazing-trail

We also told them we’d do the honor of paving the way because it had been a storm or more since anyone had trudged that way.

m23-mount-kearsarge-in-view

Because it’s a rather straight downhill, we felt like we were floating for most of the trail and welcomed the sight of Mount Kearsarge among the beauty of the young birches. Once the trail widened, the snow was deeper and it became a trudge again, but the end was nearing.

m24-flag

Right before reaching the road, Old Glory flew as she faithfully does in the field.

m25-barn-and-kearsarge

And always a favorite–the barn beside the trailhead highlighted by the mountains and sky.

We’d come to the end and were thankful for the opportunity to climb Mount Tom again. We were especially thankful for the family who’d gone before on the West Ridge Trail–it was a bit of a slug for us, but even more so for them and we wondered if we’d have completed the loop had it not been for their hard work. We don’t know their names, though we do know their dog’s–Roscoe. May Roscoe’s owners sleep well tonight.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits Of Our Labor Day Mondate

I feel like a broken record when I say that my guy works too many hours, but so it has been. This was his weekend off and he worked more than a half day on Saturday and all day plus on Sunday. This morning he burned it all off with a seven mile run and then we headed off for a hike.

k-trail sign 1

Mount Kearsarge North off Hurricane Mountain Road in North Conway, New Hampshire, is an old fav that deserved a visit.

K-trail goes this way

It was great to be out of town and finally goofing off on this Labor Day holiday. He’s labored. I’ve labored (really–even when it seems like I’m playing, I truly am working, honest). And we needed a break. If we followed this blaze, however, we would never have found the summit.

k-climbing higher

Fortunately, we knew better. The hike is challenging, especially on the upward climb. We later commented about how the downward climb is faster, but does require attention to foot placement.

K-approaching tower

Just over two hours later, we approached the fire tower at the summit. Though no longer in use, it’s obvious from the 360˚ view why a fire lookout was built at this summit. Constructed in 1909, the structure was rebuilt by the US Forest Service in 1951. Prior to the replacement of fire towers by airplane surveillance, this tower was in operation until 1968.

k-summit fire tower (1)

Since we were last here about a year or so ago, it looked as if some of the support beams had been replaced.

k-my guy at tower

Despite the cooler temps and wind, it’s always worth a climb up.

k-summit tower 3 (1)

Once inside, all was calm. And the view–to die for. It made the efforts of our labor well worth it. We signed the log before moving back outside.

k-summit view 1 (1)

I was thankful for the railing that kept me from being blown to the great beyond as I gazed toward the Baldfaces,  though the wind wasn’t nearly as strong as last week’s Mount Crawford Mondate.

k-summit Mount Washington (1)

Back on the granite, we twirled about and took in each view–including Mount Washington with cumulus clouds grazing its summit.

k-summit to ledges and moats (1)

The cloud cover varied as we looked toward the valley with Cathedral Ledge, the Moats and beyond. Because we’ve set our feet down at those various levels, we appreciated the layers before us.

k-summit toward cranmore (1)

And we noted the Green Hills Preserve, where we’ve also hiked many a trail.

K-Pleasant Mtn

The cloud cover changed as we turned toward home and saw Pleasant Mountain in the distance. Our house is located about center beyond the mountain. And our camp to the left end of said mountain.

k-summit lunch rock (1)

Of all the rocks, lunch rock was the most important find. Sometimes, it’s difficult to locate such among all the opportunities, but this one spoke to us. And so we sat. And ate. Sandwiches (not PB&J–those are more for winter fare) and brownies (great any time of the year).

k-my guy snoozing (1)

And then my guy decided to snooze. He deserved it.

k-hare scat

I took advantage of the opportunity to observe and was tickled to find these woody fruits–the milk duds of the north woods. Snowshoe hare scat. I found numerous examples and wondered where the hares hid. Actually, they could have been anywhere because among the bald rocks there were plenty of islands filled with brushy undergrowth.

k-blueberry.jpg

And so I poked about. Though the low bush blueberry plants were plentiful, the fruits were sparse. In fact, I only spotted this one.

k-mountain cranberries

More prolific were the mountain cranberries, aka lingonberries.

k-summit speckled alder (1)

What surprised me was the presence of speckled alder in the mix because I think of this as a species with wet feet, but really, this mountain top is much moister than most of our lowlands, so in the end I guess it made sense. Always something to wonder about.

k-sheep laurel fruit.jpg

It wasn’t just speckled alder that made me wonder. Sheep laurel also grew there. I know it well in bogs and even along the power line behind our house. And yet, it loved the habitat on the summit.

k-summit huckleberries (1)

The same was true for huckleberries–which I look at beside Moose Pond all summer. How can they like wet feet and a bald mountain landscape. But again, I think perhaps it’s the moisture for these mountains are often lost in the clouds.

K-mountain holly

Mountain holly also liked this habitat. Again, I’ve seen this at camp where the fruits have already been consumed. Songbirds love these berries and the supply on Kearsarge will disappear soon as migration begins. Here today, gone tomorrow.

k-wild raisins 2

Wild raisins were equally plentiful and worth admiring.

k-wild raisins 3

The berries are edible, at least for birds. But . . . if not consumed, the fruits shrivel up–thus the name of wild raisin.

k-trail sign 2

At last, my guy awakened and we picked our way among the rocks and roots on our descent.

K-oak plum gall (1)

At least one more fruit showed its face on the downward route. Or was it a fruit? Actually not–it was an oak plum gall created by a wasp.

We talked about Labor Day as we climbed down. Labor Day is a tribute to the contribution of those who work and contribute to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country. We gave thanks to our parents and the work ethic they taught us. And we noted the fruits of labor we saw in the natural world.

Finally, we toasted all with a beer at Delany’s Hole in the Wall in North Conway–a Shock Top for him and Tuckerman’s Pale Ale for me. On this Mondate, we felt rewarded with the fruits of all labor.

 

Going With The Flow Mondate

Our first Mondate of 2016 had us swerving this way and that and never quite reaching the summit. Such is the way of life–and our best choice is to go with the flow.

We drove to Hurricane Mountain Road in North Conway to begin our trek up the obscure Red Tail Trail. Well, it’s not really obscure. Mountain bikers know it well. And at least a half mile of the trail is part of the Cranmore Conservation Easement held by the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. I’m going to lead a hike for them in a couple of weeks, so I dragged my guy along for a reconnaissance mission.

And we got lost. Fake lost once again. This time, the wrong trail–the Kettle Ridge trail, which isn’t signed. That was my first clue. The second was that we were immediately climbing and I couldn’t hear water. I’ve only explored part of the Red Tail Trail once before with Jesse from Upper Saco Valley LT so I knew it followed the brook beside Hurricane Mtn Road from the start. After about fifteen minutes of climbing and not feeling like it was right, we retraced our steps and I found the trail sign I’d been looking for–hidden behind some trees. Lesson to those who follow me–you never know if I’m leading you astray 😉

trail sign

land trust sign

Two signs actually within a matter of minutes and we were golden. brook 1

For about a half mile the trail follows a nameless brook. It must have a name, but I can’t find it anywhere so I’m calling it Red Tail Brook. I was looking for interesting things to share with people and as usual, nature didn’t let me down.

brook 2

brook 5 ice

4 legged ice

Water created icy legs as it cascaded over the rocks.

boulder 1

Speaking of rocks, I can’t begin to imagine the moment that this boulder landed beside the brook. It must have created quite a roar and thud. If a boulder rolls in the woods and no one is around to hear it . . .

 boulder 3

My guy begrudgingly posed beside it.

boulder 2

And Red Tail Brook flowed behind.

polypody 1

Atop the boulder, polypody ferns let us know that the temperature was in the teens. Fortunately, we were out of the wind as we were on the backside of Mount Cranmore.

boulder life

Life on a rock! Life rocks. And this rock is full of life.

boulder birch seed

One itty bitty piece of life clung precariously with hopes of taking hold on a permanent basis. I’m not sure this boulder is the right choice, but a yellow birch scale clings tentatively.

Yellow birches need moist conditions to germinate and grow. Moss-covered conifer logs and stumps, along with rocks offer the best chance for survival.

hemlock cone hemlock scale and seed

We were in Eastern hemlock territory so hemlock cones, seeds and scales were also abundant.

red squirrel midden 1

As were red squirrel middens.

 turkey prints

turkey print

It may be a single track bicycle trail, but it’s not a single turkey trail. Their oversize prints covered the lower part of the range.

deer prints 2 deer prints

From top to bottom, deer prints crisscrossed the trail.

sshare tracks

We also saw plenty of snowshoe hare tracks. Though my guy claims he saw an actual hare, I can at least say that I knew by the signs left behind that they’d been active.

sshare cut snowshoe hare scat

Prints below a 45% cut on a shrub and plenty of milk duds–aka snowshoe hare scat–were evident everywhere we turned.

btaspen bark bigtooth aspen leaf

My bark addiction is not to be denied. A wee bit of light brown between furrows makes me think I’m looking at Northern red oak, until I recognize the flattened ridges and gnarly furrows and realize I’m starring at a big tooth aspen tree. Of course, its leaves with those well-cut teeth and flattened stems serve as a banner.

 false tinder conk, Phellinus ignarius

artist's conk 2

False tinder conks and artist conks decorate the trees.

s-turns

After lunch (PB&J, some yummy chocolate raspberry bars my sister made and hot cocoa), we left the brook behind and began to ascend the mountain via a number of switchbacks. My guy, of course, was always ahead as he appears here–disappearing into the trees.

paper birch, white birch and cherry

The community kept changing–sometimes we were in a recently logged area where paper birch, gray birch and cherry trees dominated the landscape.

red pine and white pine

Other times it was a mix of evergreens, including white and red pine, hemlocks, firs and spruce trees.
Mount Washington ValleyMount Wash & Kearsarge

And then the S-turns got serious–one curve after another. The higher we climbed, the more we realized that there were a lot of false summits before us, but a glorious view behind us.

Mounts Wash & Kearsarge 2

Mount Washington and Kearsarge North provided a brilliant display.

Mount Washington ObservatoryKearsarge firetower

With my telephoto lens, I pulled in the  Mount Washington Observatory and fire tower atop Kearsarge.
MVW

The Mount Washington Valley spread out below us. We felt like we were so close to the connecting trail between Mount Cranmore and Black Cap Mountain, but the sun lowered and we’d left our headlamps behind. Every time we thought surely the next turn would be the summit, we were wrong. So . . . rather than worrying about reaching that destination, we decided to turn around and head back down the trail. At first, we bushwhacked together and then it became a game. We took turns as one of us bushwhacked while the other followed the trail, curious to see where we would meet. Competition took over, and we were soon running to beat the other to our meeting spot–wherever that may be. Somehow, what took us a while to climb up turned into only an hour’s journey down.

last shortcut

I, of course, got off track a couple of times and had to yell to my guy to figure out his location. He had the last chuckle when I chose a wet spot for my final shortcut-turned-longcut.

brook at end

At last we reached the trailhead, tired but exhilerated. On this Mondate we went with the flow and loved the opportunity to learn and play together along the way.