January 17, 2015.
Continuing with the AT theme of the last three weeks it's right back at it this week. The target is the other half of Holts Ledge and if time permits Smarts Mt. I have to be back by a certain time as we are going out to dinner with friends tonight.
Arriving at the trailhead nice and early, as early as I can with the late sunrise, and I park at the Dartmouth Skiway lot. It is just 100 yards down from the trailhead and the temps are a frosty -5° this morning as I have the boots on the ground five minutes after seven. Walking down the road and through an opening in the trees is the, hopefully, second destination of the day, Smarts Mt.
At the trailhead and on go the microspikes as the trail is well packed and looks like someone is up ahead of me already. Must be up there for the sunrise as there was one car in the lot when I got there. I start up the trail and it is a pretty mild trail but it takes about fifteen minutes to adjust to the cold air. Moving quickly helps to warm me up and soon the lungs do not sting anymore from the cold air. The woods are slowly brightening up as I make my way up.
Shortly I am passing the service road for the Skiway that the trail intersects not far below the spur trail for Trapper John Shelter. Yes, you read that right, the shelter is named after the M*A*S*H character. A little humor from the folks of Dartmouth which of course is a medical college and the character, Trapper John McIntyre, graduated from Dartmouth College. Might explain the missing trailhead sign at the other end last week as the Trapper John signs seem to be a collectors item. The spur trail to the shelter is a long 3/10 of a mile down and there hasn't been anyone on this trail as the snow is unbroken. I say long but in reality it only took eight minutes to reach the shelter. There is some discrepancy as to the origins of the stone fireplace standing apart from the shelter. It has been suggested that it might be from the prior DOC Holts Ledge Camp or a house that was once on this spot. A look at a 1931 topo map shows Holts Ledge Camp at the approximate location of the current Trapper John Shelter.
Returning to the trail and the climb becomes a little steeper as I get to see the rising sun hitting Bear Hill which is to my right. Approaching the ledges and even though it is a very chilly morning it looks like a cloudless day is in store.
The trail reaches a tee junction with the AT continuing to the right and to the left is the spur down to the ledges. Straight ahead is an opening out onto this portion of the ledges and the sun feels good as it helps to warm me up. Looking to the north and Smarts Mt looks unreachable from this vantage point.
It is a long steep drop off from here and unfortunately facing into the sun makes getting decent pictures almost impossible. Across the way is Cardigan looking eerily like Chocorua with its prominent pointy summit.
Continuing back up the trail and the trail is untouched up through here as the highlight for this end of the trail are the ledges. The short trip to the high point I was on last week takes a little over five minutes to reach and then it is a quick trip back down to the ledge spur. There is a chain link fence at the spot where the views open up and was put there to keep people out of the area beyond for a couple of reasons. Below is the cliff face where peregrine falcons usually nest and on the other side of the fence is where a rare plant community, Circumneutral rocky ridge, grows.
Following in the footsteps of the earlier visitor and I make my way to the top of the ski area with an open view to some peaks just east of Barre, Vermont. Pictured are Knox Mt, Butterfield Mt and Signal Mt located in Orange, Vermont.
Rather than take the trail back down I head down via Papoose ski trail making my way down to the service road I crossed earlier. In just thirty minutes from the top of the ski trail I am back down on the road and find the opening for the AT that bypasses Dorchester Road. About a hundred yards up and I reach the sign for the thru hikers offering free ice cream. It points to Bill Ackerly's house to the left of the trail who is affectionately known as the "Ice Cream Man" to AT thru hikers. I pass for today as the temps are slowly creeping up but only in the single digits right now.
The trail winds through the woods up and over the terrain much more than I expected. The topo maps can be very deceiving sometimes. There are a few oddities along the way such as a blazed tree with a hole in it and a granite post with the AT mileage to Katahdin cut into it.
There is also a tree in the shape of a "W" and at 10:20 I reach the beginning of Lambert Ridge Trail which leads up to Smarts Mt.
The trail is packed down from some fairly recent traffic so the going is easy through the much more open and sunny woods. It is four miles up to the summit and I am not sure I can make it up and back in order to get home in time. I figure I'll go as far as I can and decide at some point to turn around or at least I can bail out via the Ranger Trail which parallels this trail sharing the same trailhead parking lot. I wish I had more time as I do not like feeling rushed while hiking. I like to check things out along the way and today there is not much time for that. It's sticking to the trails and sightseeing will have to come another day. Along the trail are ledge outcroppings and one of them use to have a side path, according to the old maps, for a view to the south.
Thirty minutes from starting this trail and it does cross one open ledge with some limited views across the way to where I was earlier this morning to Holts Ledge.
A few more minutes up the trail and a better view of Holts Ledge and Moose Mt right behind it, two spots I was one last week. In the sag between Holts Ledge and Bear Hill I can see Okemo off in the distance in Vermont.
Heading further up the trail and the ledges get better with views to the east and southeast. Cardigan is much clearer from this vantage point with the sun being higher in the sky.
Along this somewhat flat spot of the ridge and through an opening in the trees Killington and its massive ski complex can be seen.
Reaching another broad narrow ledge and Smarts Mt is staring me in the face but still looks a ways away. I check the time it is 11:45 with just a little over two miles to the summit. It's such a beautiful day and I know I do not have the time to make it all the way. These are the kind of days you live for especially with a fire tower on top and clear skies for the views.
Just another mile to Ranger Trail and that alone is three miles back to Dorchester Road coupled with the AT back to the junction with Holts Ledge Trail is two miles. That's at least three hours of hiking to go plus an hour to get to Ranger trail then a two hour plus ride home. Let's face it I am going to be late. At the last look out point I get a sneak peek of Moosilauke over the western shoulder of Smarts.
The trail then dips down into a small col between Lambert Ridge and Smarts Mt before the climb up. And right on cue one hour later I reach the junction with Ranger Trail. it is 12:45 and there is no way I can make it up and down to the summit with any time for viewing. Especially when the last mile of this trail is the steepest part which will take more time than usual. So right turn Clyde! I figure maybe I can fly down this trail but immediately have my doubts when I run into this.
Thankfully that is not the norm for the trail and I do end up being able to pick up the pace.
I reach the old fire wardens garage in thirty-five minutes and from there the trail is much more milder. I do have to have to stop at one point as a problem with my right foot is flaring up. It has been plaguing me for some time all the way back to this summer. It feels like the sock is balling up under my toes and puts painful pressure on it. I have stopped before thinking maybe the sock is balling up but after taking the boot off the sock is fine. I readjust everything and stretch my toes then make my way back down the trail.
I make the three mile trip down very quickly in just one hour and twenty minutes. Pretty dang good for winter conditions. Rather than taking the windy up and down trail back to the car I decide it will be much faster taking Dorchester Road back. This decision saved me considerable time as it took me just over an hour to do this section by trail but I booked it along the road in just thirty-five minutes. Looks like I might make it back on time after all. Heading through Weare on the way home and for the last month I have spotted this mountain at the junction of Sugar Hill Road and Route 13. Today I finally stopped to get a picture as the sun is setting and with the help of good ole Google Earth it is Crotched Mt.
Final numbers: 14.1 miles, 7 hours and 40 minutes.
Redline Miles: 10.2, Total to Date: 692.7