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!

Greenwood Nature Mondate

We love Maine both for its natural beauty and historic nature. And so it was today that we enjoyed a wee bit of both as we headed off to Greenwood.

m1-Greenwood City sign

More specifically, Greenwood City.  According to the town website, “The first saw and shingle mill was constructed at ‘Greenwood City’ in 1805. In the mid-1800s, the wood industry moved to the Village of Locke’s Mills as a result of the railroad and a fire which destroyed Greenwood City.” Apparently, the city had been the economic and civic center of Greenwood, but the fire of 1862 changed everything. Nevertheless, this was our kind of city and our intention was to climb the mountain to the left of the sign–Peaked Mountain.

m3-Maggie's Nature Park sign

For years now, I’d heard of Maggie’s Nature Park, but never gave it much thought as a destination. That all changed today. The park encompasses 83 acres of mixed forest across the street from South Pond. It was gifted to the town by Maggie Ring, who had placed it under conservation easement with the Mahoosuc Land Trust. According to an article by Josh Christie in an April 2016 issue of the Portland Press Herald, “As Ring told the MLT in 2005, ‘I gave the land so my grandchildren and everyone else’s grandchildren can enjoy these woods. I want them to enjoy some of God’s good earth.’” 

Our plan was to begin on the orange Ring Hill Trail, and consistently stay to the right as we wove our way around the hill and up Peaked Mountain before descending via Harriet’s Path and finishing with the yellow trail.

m4-elbow tree

Because the temperature was on the crisp side, the snow pack was firm, though there were icy portions in the hemlock grove, and bare trail and ledges as well. As we began, we immediately noted an elbow tree, so formed probably when another tree landed upon it.

m4a-cedar

Moving along at my guy’s brisk speed, I was delighted to note the variety of trees, including cedar, and couldn’t help but imagine the teaching opportunities.

m6-evergreen wood fern

Where the snow had melted, shades of green drew my attention. And with a new season ever so slowly unfolding, I realized I needed to practice my fern ID and so I slowed my guy down for a wee bit. I think he secretly welcomes the breaks for he always finds a rock upon which to sit. One of the characteristics that helped in this ID was the first downward pointing pinnule–it being shorter than the one next to it. I also noted that the stipe or lower stalk, was shorter than the blade, and it was grooved.

m6a-evergreen wood fern

A look at the underside added to my conclusion for last year’s sori were round and all in a row between the midrib and margin. So what was it? Evergreen Wood Fern or Dryopteris intermedia if you choose to get technical. I choose to brush up on my fern ID.

m5-icicles

As we continued along Ring’s Hill, we took in the views from the ledges and under them as well, where icicles pointed toward the land they’d nurture.

m7-snack log

Eventually we followed the yellow blazes to the summit of Peaked Hill–and what to our wondering eyes should appear at a downed log near the view point? Two Dove eggs–the dark chocolate species. A perfect reward for our efforts. But really, the trail required little effort due to its well-executed construction with many zigs and zags to prevent erosion. We hardly felt like we were climbing yet we constantly moved upward.

m8-Mount Abram

The summit of Peaked offered the best views–this one being of Mount Abram, with its ski area at the top and to the right. The ski area is closed for the season, but snow still covered the trails that we could see.

m9-blueberry bushes

Also within our view–highbush blueberry buds suggesting a delightful treat for another day.

m9-toad lichen

And common toadskin lichen reminded me that Big Night is coming soon–that special rainy night(s) when we become sally savers and help amphibians cross that the road to their natal vernal pools. Stay tuned for that–there might be some migration later this week.

m10-trail well marked

All along, we’d noted the trail markers–bright colors and frequent placement made it easy to stick to the trail. But one caused me concern for it looked like it pointed us over the edge.

m11-trail makers

Not to worry, it was merely noting a junction and curve–my guy came in from the right because he’d chosen to follow the ledge from the Mt. Abram viewpoint, while I chose to return to our snack log and then follow the trail to meet him. Together again, we journeyed to the left as the trail markers indicated.

m12-marker curving 'round rock

Rather than stay on the Peaked Mountain Trail all the way back to the parking lot, we continued with our right-hand-turn progression and chuckled when we found one trail marker painted around the curve of a rock–so indicating yet another zig.

m13-dead end

A short spur on the red trail, aka Harriet’s Path, lead to one last point of view.

m14-pond view

South Pond below with Buck and Lapham Ledges in the distance–hikes saved for another day.

m15-boulder field

We looped back to the yellow trail and continued down through a boulder field–one more piece of what made this hike so interesting. It wasn’t long after that we completed the journey, but talked immediately about returning in other seasons for so delightful a trek it was. I can’t wait to see what flowers it has to offer and we both could only imagine it decked out with autumn’s tapestry.

m17-Greenwood Cattle Pound

On the way home, because I was driving, we had one last stop to make–by the Greenwood Cattle Pond built in 1835 just north of the city. Pounds were important features to secure stray animals prior to the invention of barbed wire and the stones would have stood taller than they do today, but still . . . another piece of history saved for this one is on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the end of the day we wondered why it had taken us so long to discover Maggie’s Nature Park, but thankfully we now have. And we gave thanks to Maggie Ring and her vision to protect “God’s good earth” for all of us. We loved the nature of Greenwood on this Mondate. Indeed.

P.S. Another claim to fame for this town: LL Bean was born in Greenwood in 1872.

 

 

 

Peeking About Mondate

Our afternoon Mondate found us sneaking to the peak–Peaked Mountain in North Conway, New Hampshire. While it’s not the most challenging hike ’round these parts, it offers great views.

sign

The trail is located in The Nature Conservancy’s Green Hills Preserve. It’s a great place to snowshoe, but today that wasn’t an option.

up the ravine

We chose the counter-clockwise route–hiking up through the ravine between Peaked and Middle Mountains.

mountain stream

Though it was a constant companion, we couldn’t always see the water rushing downhill, but occasionally we were able to take a peek.

peek peaked

And through the trees we had another sneak peek–that of the summit of Peaked Mountain. Not far from here, we left the mountain stream behind and starting climbing the connector trail toward our destination.

roots

Our discussion centered on roots–our family tree roots and how we can continue to fill in the blanks.

white pine needles

As we got closer to the summit, I realized we were among another family–the  Pinaceae or pine family. White pine, with its five flexible needles in each bundle, grows just below the summit.

red needles 2

At the top, the red pine and pitch pine grow side by side. Their bark is similar in appearance, but the needles and cones make their ID easier. Red pine features two long, stiff needles in a bundle.

pitch pine needles

Pitch pine, on the other hand, has three in a bundle and they’re about half the length of red pine needles. As one friend says, “One, two, three strikes you’re out–pitch pine.” I’m a firm believer in mnemonics.

Then there are the cones.

white pine cone

White pine cones are long and narrow. 4-8″

red pine cone

Red pine cones are ball-like in shape and almost stalkless. 1.5-2.5″

pitch pine 2

Pitch pine cones feature a short, stout prickle on each scale. 2-4″

I never thought about this before, but today it struck me that the whites, with their short needles, have the longest cones, while the reds, with their long needles, have short cones. Why?

A few cool things to note about pitch pine–because of its high resin content, Colonists used it for turpentine and tar to grease wheel axles; and pitch pine is fire resistant, meaning following a fire, new needles are produced on new branches from suppressed buds; also, it will stump sprout after a fire.

lunch rock

We found lunch rock and enjoyed our usual PB&J. Today’s jam was prepared by our friend, Pammie. Spiced peach. Delish.

Middle Mountain

Before us stood Middle Mountain. Though we’ve hiked Peaked a few times before, as well at Black Cap behind it, we’ve never actually reached the summit of Middle. One of these Mondates.

Mount Wash valley

The sun reflected off the roofs of the outlets in North Conway. We were much happier looking down on them, than being down there looking up.

Pudding Pond

Pudding Pond and the Moats add to the view.

Kearsarge

And behind us–another favorite peak: Kearsarge North behind Cranmore Mountain Ski Resort.

ice

The route down put us on the shaded side of the mountain, where ice coated the rocks.

cranmore 1

Cranmore featured top to bottom skiing this past weekend, but really, we need snow. And cold temperatures.

Peek a the great peak, Mt Wash

Even Mount Washington looks like it needs a fresh coating of the white stuff.

frost

We did find some leaves decked out with frost.

scruffing along

While my guy followed me up the trail, I followed him down. He scruffed along, not letting the leaves, rocks and roots bother him. I, meanwhile, took my time, overthinking each placement of my feet. After a few falls last month, each step has become a feat.

waiting patiently

He provided guidance over icy sections and occasionally waited patiently for me to catch up, never once commenting on my caution. I appreciate that.

And I appreciate that we shared a variety of peeks as we conquered the peak. Peaked Mountain Mondate.