May 16, 2015.
After seeing Cranmore Mt from White Ledge last week and checking the map the decision was made. On paper it looked like I could do all four peaks in one day as the mileage would be in the 18's. They should be snow free as the highest peak is just under 2400 feet. There was only two concerns in regards to my completing this self imposed challenge. One was the weather as the forecast was for showers off and on all day. The other is the mileage as the most I have done on a single hike this winter was just under seventeen. The only other big hike day was back in November when I did a tad under eighteen miles. With plenty of bailout options in case the weather turned real bad I was off and determined to do all the trails in this area in Conway.
Arriving at the trailhead as early as I could taking into account the two and a half hour drive I am on the trails by 7:15. This is one of those logistical nightmares in hitting all the trails efficiently. Sometimes you just have to jump in and take each trail as it comes. As I take the first steps the first sprinkles of the day start. Thankfully it is nothing to worry about as the fresh leafy canopy prevents most of the showers from getting to me. Plus it does not last long as I reach the first junction and turn right down on Pudding Pond Trail. The first agenda of the day is a loop hike with a quick out and back on Pudding Pond Connector.
I get to the tee for the loop and head counter clockwise where the connector trail is just ahead. It crosses over an outlet stream on a bridge with a beaver hut out in the middle of the water. The trail leads out to North-South Road where I turn around and make the return trip. This would be the recurring theme for the day.
Back on Pudding Pond Trail and it follows the stream which has multiple dams and the beavers have been busy attempting to take down trees much too large for them to use. I'm not sure if this is where they have classes for tree felling or just sharpening their teeth on these big trees.
Reaching the northern end of Pudding Pond and the trail leads right up to the edge of the pond. It seems odd the way the trail ends and the view is not that good from this vantage point. Looking around and there is a faint hint of a trail leading off to the left and then some flagging on the trees. Reaching some bog bridges I feel like I am back on the trail.
Further up there is a note tacked to a tree and it turns out part of the trail has been temporarily rerouted due to the high water. Seeing the closed section I follow it as far as I can go and then turn around. Even from this spot the view of Pudding Pond is limited as there is no dry spot along the shore that gives a good vantage point.
Continuing the loop and I reach the junction which I thought was the spot I came out on at the start. I turn right and notice the leaves are not on the trail anymore as they were on the way in. It sticks in the back of my mind and I keep going until I reach the power lines that paralleled the first trail from the parking spot. There is supposed to be a kiosk here and it is gone. Realizing my mistake I turn back around. This area is also home to a lot of mountain biking trails and I turned onto one of them. That explains the leaves missing on the trail. Returning to the right trail then to the correct intersection I am back at the kiosk as the rain showers return again. The trail opens up when crossing under the power lines and then immediately back into the woods. Under the canopy again and the rain does not bother me and soon stops again. I am getting lucky so far that it has just been a light rain and make my way up to Middle Mt Trail at the split with Black Cap Connector.
The trail climbs up between Peaked Mt and Middle Mt with a brook off to my right providing the music for the hike. I pass the next trail junction and just after cross the brook that was supplying the soothing sounds. Further up the trail eases up on the ridge and turns at a boulder that even has a sign pointing the way. It is one of those things that makes me laugh to myself as there is no other choice here but to turn. Up ahead the first ledge of the day is visible. Beyond that and the trail goes around another larger boulder and makes the final ascent to the summit.
As I make the final climb there is one lazy red pine lying on it's side taking a nap. The summit is just after and comes complete with a summit sign.
Even with the overcast the views are not that bad today. To the east is Chocorua and just below it White Ledge, where I was last week. Right of that is Whiteface and the massive looking Passaconaway. Along with the views it looks like the rain might hold out as the skies don't have that rain look to them.
Exploring all the ledges I head back over to where the trail U-turns around the boulder and go down to the herd path. I saw a glimpse of Peaked Mt, the next destination, as I came around the boulder on the way up. The trail leads down to a dead end and there are no views to be had. Making my way back up and I can hear some loud people ahead of me. I reach the boulder and climb up getting a tree obscured shot of Peaked Mt.
The people are up at the summit and I head down the trail and soon the annoying barking of dogs as they come rushing down at me ruin the silence of the woods. Three of them out of nowhere come screaming down the trail and it is another one of my pet peeves. Granted they were small dogs but how is a stranger to know they are friendly or obedient? Well obviously they were not obedient as they are loose and running away from their owners after me. I stop and turn to get them to back off and two of them do as the owner is yelling at them unsuccessfully to come back. A third is still persistent and after feigning to chase him he turns and leaves. The owner is yelling at the dogs for not listening and I so wanted to yell at the owner for not controlling his dogs. Making double time down the trail to put as much distance between me and them I make it to Middle Mt Connector in fast time and just book it up the trail to the junction with Peaked Mt Trail in twenty-five minutes.
Peaked Mt is just a short ways up from this junction and is another open area with some views.
Down below are White Horse Ledge and Cathedral Ledge both spots that have trails I have not done yet. On the opposite side is a view up to Black Cap Mt where I am heading next.
The last peak of the day is Cranmore Mt and it can be seen with Kearsarge North behind it. Down below on a ledge is Pudding Pond where I started the morning.
Hearing the voices down below me and it is time to leave as I rush to make it pass the junction to avoid running into the mysterious dog owners. Within ten minutes I reach a large ledge with, on a perfect day, amazing views over to the southern Presis. Monroe is visible and Mt Washington discernible just barely being cloaked by a cloud. To the right is Mt Adams.
Across the way is Cranmore Mt looking so close I have tempting thoughts to cut some mileage off of the day. I make it down to another junction where the very short and steep Peaked Mt Connector leads down to Black Cap Connector. I turn right onto Black Cap Connector and begin the three plus mile jaunt to Black Cap Mt.
The hike over is quiet and solitude I seek as I don't see a single sole. The last person I saw was a trail runner coming up the ledge with the Presis view. The trail climbs gradually along the old woods road until leaving the road for a bypass section. Here the trail switchbacks up onto some ledges that have been split apart over a long time probably by freezing ice wedging them apart.
Soon the trail rejoins the old woods road and a few dips here and there makes its way below the summit of Black Cap. At the next junction the spur tail leads up and I have made it to destination number three. The summit slab even has a curious set of stairs which I could find no explanation for.
This summit is a fantastic little peak with views that again on a good day would be outstanding. It is not a total loss as the nearby mountains make up for the overcast day. Kearsarge North and it's fire tower are right across the way. Chandler, Sable with North and South Baldface are next to Kearsarge North.
I stop for my first break of the day as I am thankful that the weather has held out to this point. I can see to the west and it looks like it may hold out for a while more. The blackflies are out but they are more determined to fly around the head to annoy than to bite. Feeling it is time to move on I head down the Black Cap Trail moving along the ledges enjoying the views. Eventually the trail ducks back into the woods and I reach the junction with the other end of Black Cap Connector. I stop and contemplate on which way to go. The choice is to continue on to Hurricane Mt Road and then back with a side trip to Mt Cranmore. Call it a day and head back and come back another day for the rest of Black Cap Trail and Cranmore Trail. Or do the short section of Black Cap Connector now and then down to Hurricane Mt Road back up to Cranmore Mt and then a bushwhack over to Black Cap Connector down near Peaked Mt Connector. The bushwhack looked to be about seven tenths of a mile but there were just too many unknowns to attempt it. So there was only one obvious choice...move on and complete the goal I had set for the day. Just as I start down Black Cap Trail I see the first people since over two hours ago as a family is coming up from Hurricane Mt Road. I pass the junction for Cranmore Trail and meet a few more groups on the way down.
I make it to the trailhead and then turn around and just after the kiosk pass one couple that I met on the way down. I get the usual funny look when I do these out and backs as they ask if I am lost. I explain to them my red lining project and that I am parked on the other side of the range. After a few minutes of conversation I head off and soon re-reach the junction for Cranmore Trail. This doesn't happen too often but the trail over to Cranmore Mt is basically downhill. It helps with the distance I need to cover as it is gradual all the way.
It only takes thirty minutes to reach the summit which is the top of the ski lifts. There is good view of Middle Mt and Peaked Mt and that bushwhack looks so inviting from here. The service road for the cell towers up here make it even more enticing but it is too late as I have that short section of trail left. I can see it from here as Black Cap is behind me. That gradual climb doesn't look so gradual from here and I now wish I had gone with the bushwhack.
Well I made a decision and I have to live with it so time to make my way back up the trail to Black Cap Connector. On the return trip I run into the wife of the couple I stopped and talked to earlier. Again she asked if I was lost and I had to pull out the map to show her what I was up to. Curious I asked her why she was out here by herself now and she said she was taking the ski trail down. I looked quizzically at her and commented that I thought they were parked on Hurricane Mt Road. She told me her husband has hip issues and headed down and was meeting her at the base of the ski area with the car and that is why she was out this way. We wished each other good luck and went our separate ways. Amazingly it does not seem as bad as it looked from Cranmore Mt and just over thirty minutes I am back at the junction where I made the choice earlier. Now it is only four tenths of a mile up to the spur trail and unfortunately it was steeper than I was prepared for. It probably is not that steep but more steady and this is the first time I started to feel the mileage of the day. I make it back to the junction with the spur and try to convince myself that it is all downhill from here.
The only thing is that I know there a re a few ups and downs between here and the ledges that are cracked and another one around 1700 feet. Plus I still have the short section of Peaked Mt Trail that is an up to do. Pushing on I need to take a break and refuel and go as far as I can looking for a good spot to sit down and rest the legs. I make it to the ledges and there is a perfect spot to sit and eat. Refreshed I move on and down I go surprisingly making it back to Peaked Mt Connector in pretty good time. It is just four tenths of a mile of new trail to the piece of Peaked Mt Trail I also need to get. I pass by a, thankfully, closed section of trail that leads down to Thompson Road that I do not need for redlining. Just beyond is another kiosk and the beginning of Peaked Mt Trail. There is another closed section of trail that also leads down to Thompson Road that again I do not need to do. I look up at the section of Peaked Mt Trail I need and it is only three tenths.
On a normal day this may not seem that steep but after doing seventeen miles this little section kicked my butt. It was one of those take a hundred steps and take a breather. I did this three times before the trail started to level out and follow the contour up to the junction with Peaked Mt Connector.
Reaching the junction and relief washed over me as I turned around and headed back down. Funny thing is on the way down it did not seem as steep as when I was coming up. Another half mile on the Black Cap Connector and I was back at the split with Middle Mt Trail. Almost there and looking at the watch I purposely pushed the last half mile to the kiosk from the earlier part of this morning. From there it was just five minutes back to the parking lot and sitting down never felt so good.
What a great day this turned out to be considering the weather predictions. Other than a couple of sprinkles the showers never came and I never saw another person since I ran into the woman back on Cranmore Trail. A pretty good area for hiking with some excellently cared for trails.
Final numbers: 18.9 miles, 10 hours and 0 minutes.
Redline Miles: 11.8, Total to Date: 778.0