May 12, 2013.
This hike just came to the forefront quite quickly. It has been on the to-do list but never set a time for it. Last week on the way to Monadnock I stopped in at the EMS Peterborough store to pick something up and they were having a big sale and some reps were there also. Just so happens a rep from the Friends of the Wapack was on hand and I started talking to him and told him I was interested in doing the whole trail. He mentioned if I felt really ambitious they were having the annual 50 mile race on the trail next weekend. No chance in doing that but I did buy their trail guide and map and just like that I am hiking it today.
The Wapack Trail is over 21 miles and starts in Ashburnham MA and ends in Greenfield NH. Leaving the house early I arrive in Ashburnham at the trail head located on Route 119 at 6:00 AM. Five minutes later and I am off on my long journey in the overcast morning with temps in the low 60's.
First up is Mt Watatic a short 1.1 mile hike up a fairly easy trail. About halfway up the mountain as I am going through this pine area the trail comes to an abrupt end and already I have missed a turn. Heading back down and sure enough there is the left heading up. Funny thing is that there is a distinct trail heading in the direction that I was going so it must be a common mistake.
The trail pops out onto the first viewpoint on some ledges and I get a picture of Mt Wachusetts 14 miles to the south.
Just below the summit and the trail comes out right next to an old service road that goes to the top of Watatic, leftover from when the mountain used to be a ski area. Not paying attention and the lack of signage I start following the blazes turning left and the trail is heading down, this can't be right. Pulling out the map and I quickly see this is the trail leading over to Nutting Hill my next destination. Heading back up the trail, hope this isn't a common theme today, and soon I am at the summit of Watatic.
Heading over to a shoulder of Watatic and I get the view I was hoping for, a look all the way of the Wapack Range to North Pack Monadnock. It is the right peak that is in the background with Pack Monadnock to it's left.
Off in the distance I can her a rooster crowing as I am taking pictures. Looking down in the valley there is a farm perhaps it is coming from there.
Back to the main summit and a look at the time and it has already been an hour. Not good, as it will take a lot longer than planned if this is the pace for the day. Time to move on and will have to watch the time management as I go. Down the trail and as I am coming up the last small pitch to Nutting Hill I hear voices behind me. Damn, there goes any chance of not seeing anyone early in the morning. I let them pass as I make it to the top and they are a couple of trail runners probably doing a loop as I never see or hear them again. On top of Nutting Hill and I can see Watatic behind me. Also this whole trail is abundant with wild blueberries that are just in bloom. One could have a feast all along the way during July and August.
Down off Nutting Hill and it is a gradual walk through the woods on an old country road. Passing the state line just an hour and thirty-five minutes from starting and time is still in the back of my mind.
I had hoped to do this in about ten hours but at this rate it could be 16-20 which would be impossible as I'll run out of daylight. Plugging along it is hard not to stop though to take pictures.
It is a quiet morning walk along this country road and then the unspeakable comes into view. A huge area just before Binney Hill Road has been recently logged with absolutely no regard for the remoteness of the trail. I do not have a problem with loggers but this is a little ridiculous. Actually it is probably not even their fault more blame is probably on the landowner. I also know that most of this trail is on private land but still there is no reason the logging could not have been done off trail and away from the trail. Just not something I was prepared for to see this morning.
Reaching Binney Hill Road at the end of this logging area and I turn left onto it. A more used country road and shortly down I spy a lot of junk to my left. Off into the woods and it soon becomes apparent what the junk is, a collapsed house.
Back to Binney Hill Road and then a right turn off the road returning to trails heading towards Binney Pond. Approaching the pond on boardwalks near the beaver flooded section and remnants of an old stone wall that passes through the submerged terrain.
Following the trail with the pond off to my right and the geese are calling out there somewhere. Coming to the bottom of Pratt Mt and the easy walking is interrupted with a short steep ascent until a path leads right to an overlook of Binney Pond and Mt Watatic in the background.
On the way up Pratt Mt I encounter the first of many newts I would see during the day. Funny thing is almost all of them I would only see on the south facing slopes. Not sure of the significance of this but I am sure there is a reason for it.
Shortly after 9 AM I make it to the summit of Pratt Mt which is five miles from where I began. Time is improving as it took three hours to do five miles but still going to make for a later day than I would have hoped. All I can do is keep moving along and not dilly dally too often to make it out at a decent hour. A view over to Mt Monadnock, a different look from this perspective than I am use to, for the first time today. New Ipswich Mt, the next peak, is also visible as I start making my way over to Stony Top a large ledgey ridge between Pratt and New Ipswich.
Fifteen minutes later and I am on Stony Top with views to the east and west. Pratt Pond is down to the east and again Monadnock dominates the western view. Also located on this ledge are several plaques honoring numerous people and groups in regards to the Wapack Trail.
In another twenty-five minutes and I am on top of New Ipswich Mt and as I go up and over the summit a view ahead to Pack Monadnock. Looking a lot closer now but still quite a ways away at more than 11 miles by trail. In the picture is the ridge I have to walk over to get to Pack and North Pack. Peeking over the top of the trees in the next picture is the last peak, Barrett Mt, before descending down to Route 123/124 the first road crossing of the day.
Heading down into the col between New Ipswich and Barrett Mts it is again a nice walk through the woods. Heading up the pitch towards Barrett and an almost perfect round glacial erratic is right next to trail all covered in lichen.
Passing some very green mossy spots and just before 10:30 I am on top of Barrett Mt which is also the top of Windblown Ski Area. Unbelievably I have not seen anyone else on trail since Nutting Hill. I actually thought this trail would see more activity than I have thus far.
Making my way down Barrett Mt and near the bottom of the descent as I am going under the power lines I see a bus off to my left in the distance next to the tree line.
After crossing under the power lines the trail parallels the lines but in the woods behind a group of houses. It is here that I pick up the most annoying beagle who is more intent on acting like a tough guy barking non-stopping and following me for quite some ways. Numerous times as he gets closer I turn around and feint to head for him and he runs back a short ways. We play this stupid game for most of this section of trail until finally he decides to head back to where he came from. He must have sensed my complete and utter love for pets and wanted to be my best friend, dumb ass. Curving back towards the power lines and under them again and I reach the road and entrance to Windblown Ski Area. Walking down the road a short distance and crossing the road to re-enter back into the woods.
Time and mileage check, a bit over nine miles in a little over five hours. Looking like a twelve hour hike at this pace, not bad but I still need to contact Lisa for a pickup and then drive all the way back to Ashburnham to pick up the other vehicle and then head home. And as the old saying goes, "you can't get there from here", stands quite true for this section of the state. Only about twelve miles to go and so far has been a fun trip. Passing through someone's back yard there is an old ski tow that heads up the hill to my right.
Making a left onto an old abandoned dirt road and the trail passes under the power lines for the third time. To my right is a spur trail that heads up to Kidder Mt. I had entertained thoughts of going up as it was only nine tenths of a mile up but I didn't feel comfortable giving up an hour of trail time for this side trip. Under the power lines the Rhodora is in full bloom.
Not far up the trail is the Wildcat Partnership with their own private pond and some houses off to the right in the woods. Passing the last house and a short ways in the woods on the left an abandoned Plymouth.
Ten minutes later at 12:00 I stop next to a stream to rest a bit and make some lunch, Mac & Cheese using my alcohol stove to boil the water. It is my first time using it and quickly discover that I need to get a windscreen to help keep the flame concentrated on the pot. Never the less it suffices for today even though I don't get the water to a boil. Yes, I did pull the water out of the stream and no I didn't sterilize it first nor did it ever get to a boil. Living on the edge a little but nothing ever came of it.
Thirty minutes later and time to get going again passing through some wet areas and then a road that does not show on any map, old or new. A mystery to look into some other day as the best I have come up with so far is it's a colonial road back when the town of New Ipswich was chartered.
Ten minutes later and I start smelling horses and quickly it becomes apparent where it is coming from as I come to the second road crossing, Nashua Road in New Ipswich. This marks the 11.5 mile mark and I am over halfway to completing today's hike. It is a short four tenths of a mile walk up Temple Road before the trail turns right back into the woods.
There are cars parked at this "trail head" and surprisingly I see no one on this section of trail. It is steep little climb quickly gaining 400 feet in elevation and for the first time I hit the wall. Stopping a couple times in this area to catch my breath and rest the legs. It only takes less than fifteen minutes to make it to the first overlook but it seems longer. At the outlook I get to see all the way back to Mt Watatic over 7.5 miles away as the crow flies, about 12 miles by trail.
Once reaching the Sharon Ledges the trail is gradual passing another outlook to the south and then one to the west towards Monadnock. I continue plugging along thankful for the relief form the steepness and soon make it to Burton Peak which is 13.1 miles in. Only 8 plus miles to go!
Thirty minutes pass and I am at Holt Peak.
Ten minutes later and a quick look at Pack Monadnock through the trees about three miles away.
Reaching the ledges on Temple Mt and rock cairn building appears to be the favorite pastime up here. At least three different open ledges there are areas where the cairns have multiplied.
On top of Temple Mt the cell tower now dominates the skies where once stood the top of the chair lift. Across the way the next to the last mountain, Pack Monadnock with it's cell and signal towers.
On down from Temple Mt and at 3:30 I pop out of the woods onto Route 101. Crossing this very busy road with blind spots and I feel like "Frogger". Only five plus miles to go with and the first leg heading up to Pack is new territory for me. I have done the North pack to Pack traverse quite a few times from Mountain Road but never from Route 101.
Taking my time and waiting for the right opening and I cross 101 and start up the trail heading through the State Park. Crossing the toll road and the worst section of the trail is staring me in the face and quite a shock after a relatively easy hike. It is jumbled boulder laden path and the last thing I was expecting with these tired legs.
It takes almost an hour to make it to the summit up this rock steep trail with a few breaks here and there from the steepness. Only 1.3 miles in length but what a butt kicker at this stage of the hike. Up top and I try to make the call for my pickup but who would have thought with a tower right beside me and another across the street that...hey no signal! WTF! Last thing I want is to have to wait for my ride, at this point I just want to get this over with and get home. A view of Monadnock and North Pack, the final peak, from Pack.
It is just 2.1 miles to the last summit and typically a fun little section but today it is made tougher from all the miles I have done up to this point. Down into the valley and I finally have signal and hope to be out at the road by 6 or 6:30 if all goes well. Staying focused I press on and about an hour and fifteen minutes from leaving Pack I have arrived at my all to familiar North Pack Monadnock.
All downhill from here but there are some steep sections to contend with so I take my time to avoid having the tired accident. I make it to the level area and forty-five minutes from leaving North Pack and I emerge from the woods for the last time today to my love patiently waiting for me.
I persevered and what an enjoyable hike/adventure this was only seeing about eight people all day. I am already planning on going back either during blueberry season or definitely in the fall.
Final numbers: 21.6 miles, 12 hours and 30 minutes.